You expect to be a sweaty mess when you’re working out, but what about when you’re sitting in an all-staff meeting? Or simply strolling from your office to your buddy’s down the hall?
Regular sweating—say, you’re in the middle of a deadlift session—is one of the ways our body keeps us from overheating, according to Robert Segal, M.D., founder of the Medical Offices of Manhattan.
By keeping our body temperature within one or two degrees of 98.6, it helps to maintain a balance in our hormones and bodily fluids.
The amount you sweat depends on what kind of stress you’re placing on your body. For example, you sweat more when running than walking at a slow pace because your body temperature goes up faster when you’re using more energy, Dr. Segal says. So you need to be cooled off more to get your body temp back to what it should be.
But what about if the amount you’re sweating doesn’t match the stress of the situation? That could be a sign of hyperhidrosis, a common condition marked by excessive sweating, according to Lance Brown, M.D., a surgical and cosmetic dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine.
There are two types of hyperhidrosis, he notes. Primary focal hyperhidrosis is seen the most, and occurs in generally healthy people—it manifests as excessive sweat in the palms, soles and underarms, where there are higher numbers of sweat glands.
The other type, secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is less common, and is due to either a systemic disease or neurologic disorder. It can also happen as a side effect of medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression or opioids. Conditions that can raise your risk of hyperhidrosis include thyroid disease, diabetes, certain tumors, obesity, and even mercury poisoning, says Dr. Brown.
Here are five ways to tell if your pools of perspiration are actually signs of hyperhidrosis.
SIGN OF HYPERHIDROSIS: YOUR HANDSHAKE SWEATS
Like your pits, your palms have more sweat receptors—meaning, more possibilities to pool with moisture—so you may be subject to giving that clammy, moist handshake. If your sweat glands are in overdrive, this is a common area to flood first.
SIGN OF HYPERHIDROSIS: YOUR SHOES SLIP OFF
Wearing loafers without sandals? You might notice that your shoes slip right off your feet if you have hyperhidrosis. Like with your hands, there are extra sweat glands located on your feet, so you may notice sweating here, too, according to Dr. Segal.
Not going sans socks? You might notice your socks are damp when you take them off.
The main function of the sweat glands in your hands, feet, and pits is to regulate your temperature. So when you’re already sweating to cool down in your feet, adding socks into the equation—raising the warmth level there—could make you extra sweaty.
SIGN OF HYPERHIDROSIS: YOU SWEAT AT REST
This can be anytime, whether you’re sitting at your desk, driving, hanging out with friends at a bar—unless you just worked out immediately beforehand, this at-rest sweating is a red flag Dr. Segal notes.
This isn’t just a slight dampness, but as much sweat as you’d have with a hard workout. This is the point that mid-day pit stains become bothersome.
SIGN OF HYPERHIDROSIS: YOU SWEAT AT NIGHT
Waking up in a pool of sweat is not only unpleasant, but also may be a sign of hyperhidrosis.
Your body cools naturally when you sleep, according to W. Chris Winter, M.D., Men’s Health sleep adviser and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.
“As we lose heat in the evening, it prepares us for sleep,” he says. “We get colder at night, and when we dream, we get really cold. Right before we awaken, our bodies begin to heat up, preparing us to be awake.”
That means you shouldn’t need the temperature regulation of sweat to cool to you off, adds Dr. Segal.
SIGN OF HYPERHIDROSIS: YOU SWEAT IN THE COLD
Similar to the coolness you experience in the middle of the night, you shouldn’t need to sweat when you’re out in chilly weather, even if you’re exercising. Although you can expect some sweat during a polar marathon, it would be minimal compared to one done in warmer weather, says Dr. Segal.
Plus, sweating in the cold can make the chill feel even worse, since it will lower your body temp even more.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT SWEATING TOO MUCH
If your sweating seems excessive, there are treatment options. Dr. Brown says the most popular and effective, by far, is Botox—which temporarily blocks the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate sweat glands. Without those signals, you’ll still sweat a bit, but severe sweating is often significantly reduced. One treatment can last up to eight months, Dr. Segal notes.
You can also use a prescription antiperspirant that has an aluminum-chloride base, he adds, which can decrease sweating by blocking sweat gland production.
“But this can be somewhat irritating and there has been some controversy over the use of aluminum in products over the years,” says Dr. Brown.
You may also want to take a look at your diet first. Spicy food can be a trigger for excess sweat, says Dr. Brown, since they often contain capsaicin, the active ingredient found in hot peppers.
“You have capsaicin receptors in your body that respond when you eat spicy food to help cool down your body,” he says.
Chat with your doctor if sweating is significantly impacting your life, advises Dr. Segal. This includes sweating at rest, having night sweats, sweating in the cold, or having other symptoms such as fever, chills, chest pain, or dizziness. In rare cases, this can signal a more serious condition like heart disease.
By Elizabeth Millard