I’ve been trying to hide something from everyone – very literally everyone – for my entire life, but I’m finally ready to just come out with it.
I have hyperhidrosis.
When I confess this to anyone, the response I get is typically, “You have what? What is hyper-whatever?”
Hyperhidrosis is a medical term for excessive sweating. Sweating is a completely natural reaction and the body’s way of cooling itself, but hyperhidrosis goes beyond the normal sweating that one might experience in their everyday life.
I think I was around 6 years old when I realized that I sweat more than the average person. It wasn’t some major childhood revelation. I hadn’t sweated through an outfit. A classmate hadn’t made fun of me. I was simply on a walk with my mom and she didn’t want to hold my hand because it was slick with sweat in the cool fall air.
Hyperhidrosis has since affected every single aspect of my life – from playing the clarinet in middle school and riding horses to dating and my career, nothing has been left untouched by my body’s ability to produce buckets of sweat. My closet is full black clothes. I have to consider the SSF (sweat-stain-factor) before I buy any clothing. I keep a small fan at my desk and extra clothes and antiperspirant in my car just in case. The sweating is completely uncontrollable and isn’t confined to just my armpits or my hands or my feet. It happens everywhere – my entire body. I sweat when I’m nervous or hot or anxious, but I also sweat when it’s -10 degrees outside or when I’m doing nothing but sitting at my desk or on my couch.
Hiding my hyperhidrosis hasn’t been easy. People have certainly caught on. And the reactions have ranged from obviously embarrassed for me to open disgust. But in the last two years or so, I haven’t been quite as shy about it. And the more I open up about it, the more I realize that I’m absolutely not alone.
Approximately 3% of the population suffer from hyperhidrosis, but more than half are not diagnosed or treated due to a lack of awareness. There is no definitive answer as to why some people’s sweat glands work overtime and there’s not a be-all-end-all cure for it. It can’t really be lessened with prescription strength antiperspirants.
I was finally able to find some relief for mine in 2009. The first doctor to not brush it off as “everyone sweats” was also the dermatologist to discover and treat my melanoma. Although I already knew by this time that I definitely had hyperhidrosis, she officially diagnosed me and was more than happy to discuss ways to treat it – in my case, an oral medication was the best course of action.
There are two types of hyperhidrosis. Primary focal hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that is not caused by another medical condition or side effect of medications. As the International Hyperhidrosis Society states, “The excessive sweating is the medical condition.” This type of hyperhidrosis starts in children and may be inherited. Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that is caused by another medical condition or is a side effect of a medication. This type of hyperhidrosis usually starts in adults and treatment depends on determining what medical condition or medication is at the root of the sweating.
Finding a doctor who had experience in treating hyperhidrosis was the key to finally getting some help for me. That little white pill that I take daily (or sometimes, on an as-needed/emergency basis) has been a life-changer. It has given me the ability to wear clothes in colors that I would have never considered before. I’ve gained confidence in my personal and business relationships, and I can finally ride my horses without needing gloves to keep a firm grip on the reins.
But the medication isn’t completely fool-proof – hyperhidrosis still affects me every single day. I still have to consider what I’ll be doing that day and what the temperature will be like before I pick out my clothes. I still keep extra clothes in my car, and I still find myself turning on my fan at work when I’m feeling extra stress or anxiety. Sometimes, I avoid physical contact with anyone – hugs, handshakes, even holding my husband’s hand. And I can never, ever forget to take the medication.
Excessive sweating is a serious medical condition and understanding that it’s not something that a person can control is the first step towards acceptance, diagnosis, and treatment.
If you think you have hyperhidrosis, please know that you are not alone – some relief can be found.
For more information on hyperhidrosis: www.sweathelp.org (International Hyperhidrosis Society)