What causes excessive sweating? A Q&A with a dermatologist

Close up of a man sweating through his dress shirt

If you're a person who deals with excessive sweating, you can relate to the irritation (and often embarrassment) of living with it. We asked Lauri Vargo, MD, Nebraska Medicine dermatologist, to address our questions about the potential causes and a few treatment options for excessive sweating.

1. What are a few reasons someone may experience excessive sweating?  

Sweating is our body's way of keeping us cool and safe, so the main reason why people sweat is because of excessive heat. We also think of other reasons we sweat, including our emotions, social situations, exercise or anxiety. Then there are some that experience excessive sweating beyond what is expected. This condition is called hyperhidrosis. 

There are two forms of hyperhidrosis. It's important to distinguish between the two. Excessive sweating affects approximately 20% of the population, and about 5% of those fall into the hyperhidrosis category. 

Primary focal hyperhidrosis

This type is the most common type of excessive sweating I see in my clinic as a dermatologist. It's typically seen from a young age and is usually localized to the hands, feet and underarms. While not dangerous, it's a nuisance and can be quite debilitating. We think that genetics play a role and many people with this type of sweating have relatives who also suffer from it.

Generalized hyperhidrosis

This form causes excessive sweating all over the body and can be due to a medication or underlying medical disease. It's important to discuss this type of sweating with your doctor.

3. Are there certain medications or medical conditions that may cause excessive sweating?

Yes. Typically, when we see a medication or underlying condition causing excessive sweating, the sweating is new. In other words, it's not something that has been ongoing since childhood or teenage years. Typically, the sweating is all over the body (not just on the hands, feet and underarms). Several medications and medical conditions can lead to excessive sweating, and if this is a concern, we recommend you discuss it with your doctor.

4. Should a person be concerned if they experience a sudden onset of excessive sweating?

If someone experiences a sudden onset of profuse sweating, it's worth making an appointment with your doctor. Sudden onset diffuse sweating can also be linked to many medications and underlying conditions.

5. Are there treatment options for excessive sweating?

There are many ways to manage or treat excessive sweating. Included in our list of treatment options are topical medications, oral medications (pills), injectable medications like Botox, and more. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.

Everyone sweats in varying ways. But when sweating becomes bothersome, is embarrassing, and interferes with your daily life or self-esteem, you may want to consider a medical solution. Call 800.922.0000 to make an appointment.