It’s not unusual to sweat on a summer’s day when temperatures are high, or when you’re involved in vigorous physical activity, such as a brisk walk or a game of competitive sport. But if you’re neither hot nor puffed and you are sweating excessively, sweating in strange places or producing an unpleasant smell, then there could be a health issue to consider. The Live Well Sweat Decoder will help you identify what’s causing you to sweat and what your next steps should be.
If you are sweating heavily at the same time that you are experiencing chest pain, stomach pain, chills and/or light headedness, or any symptoms which are causing you concern, then you could be having some sort of health emergency.
What to do in a health emergency
Sweating can be associated with a serious health event, such as a heart attack. If the sweating happens at the same time as other intense or worrying symptoms, seek urgent medical help and call 000.
If you are troubled by sweating during the day and the sweat seems to be localised to the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the underarms or face in a generally symmetrical pattern across your body, then you may have focal hyperhidrosis. There is no clear evidence about what causes the condition, although it seems to be related to dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system and often runs in families.
What to do about focal hyperhidrosis
Your doctor will be able to give you a better idea of whether or not you have focal hyperhidrosis. The good news is that it is not in itself a serious health condition, but it can be a nuisance to live with. To help you manage the condition, your doctor may recommend that you use an extra strong over-the-counter antiperspirant available in chemists. There are also some highly specialised clinical treatments that can help control focal hyperhidrosis, such as botox. Your doctor can advise you on which treatments will suit you best.
If you are sweating heavily and the sweat is accompanied by an overpowering bad smell, then you may have a case of bromhidrosis. Everyone suffers from bad body odour from time to time, but if the situation is chronic it can be identified as bromhidrosis. It doesn’t mean you are unwell, but it can be very difficult to live with.
What to do about bromhidrosis
We know that bad body odour is not caused by sweating, but by the interaction between your sweat and the bacteria on the surface of your skin. It follows then that the basic treatment for bromhidrosis involves doing your best to keep your skin clean and dry. Washing regularly, particularly with antibacterial soaps, can help. So too does the use of deodorants (containing antibacterial agents) and antiperspirants (formulated to stop sweat). Removing body hair can also help reduce the effects of bromhidrosis because it helps reduce the accumulation of bacteria and sweat. There are also some highly specialised clinical treatments that can help control bromhidrosis, including botox. Your doctor can advise you on which treatments will suit you best.
Excessive sweat can be a side-effect of diabetes. Many Australians have diabetes, the name given to a group of different diseases that affect how your body processes blood glucose (or blood sugar). Sometimes, people with diabetes suffer from hypoglycaemia, a reaction to a drop in blood sugar levels. An episode of hypoglycaemia can lead to heavy sweating. Diabetes can also sometimes cause damage to the autonomic nervous system. This is the system that controls all the involuntary body processes including breathing, heart rate… and sweating.
What to do about diabetes-related sweating
For diabetics, careful management of diabetes will reduce the risk of either hypoglycaemia or autonomic nervous system damage, which means you will be less likely to suffer from problem sweating. Your doctor will be able to give you advice about how best to manage your diabetes.
Women who are approaching or going through menopause can experience sudden onsets of intense body heat leading to sweating around the scalp, face, neck and chest. These heat waves last about ten minutes. They can happen during the day but they are more common at night.
This kind of intense, transient sweating, accompanied by heat, is usually associated with the hot flushes and night sweats of perimenopause or menopause. Menopause is a permanent change in hormone levels that usually occurs in women aged 45 to 55, and is associated with the end of monthly menstruation. Not all menopausal women have hot flushes.
What to do about hot flushes and night sweats
If your hot flushes are annoying, but manageable, there is no need to see a doctor. Research indicates that maintaining a healthy weight and keeping up some regular physical activity can help control menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes. It’s also likely that small increases in body temperature such as sitting in direct sun or eating spicy foods can be a trigger for a hot flush in women who are prone to them.
If your hot flushes are disruptive or making you anxious, then speak to your doctor for advice on what to do. There are some prescription medications that can help.
Excessive sweating can be related to hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a common condition in which the thyroid gland produces an overabundance of thyroid hormones, causing your metabolism to go into overdrive. For some people, excessive sweating along with weight loss, body heat, and red, itchy skin can be a symptom of hyperthyroidism.
What to do about hyperthyroidism-related sweating
Your doctor will be able to tell you if your sweating issues are related to hyperthyroidism. If they are, the best way to reduce their impact is to continue to manage your hyperthyroidism carefully, in consultation with your doctor. This will include medication, and in rare cases, surgery. Lifestyle changes including reducing your everyday stress levels, lowering your intake of caffeine and quitting smoking can also help.
If you’re feeling shaky and upset at the same time as you’re sweating unexpectedly, then you could be suffering from anxiety.
What to do about anxiety-related sweating
Anxiety is a common emotion and sometimes it will pass on its own. However, if you feel that your anxiety is disrupting your life, or if you are feeling upset or concerned about your state of mind, speak to your doctor who can help you work out what sort of support you need. This could include lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, meditation and breathing exercises, a referral to a psychologist or, in some cases, medication. If you are overwhelmed by your anxiety or you are feeling suicidal, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you’re feeling a bit off-colour and then you seem to break into a sweat, you probably have a fever. When viruses or bacteria enter your body, certain chemicals are released into your bloodstream. These chemicals trigger an increase in body temperature, and viruses and bacteria have a hard time surviving in heightened temperatures. Interestingly, sweating usually occurs after the fever has broken and your body is making its way back to its usual temperature.
What to do about fever-related sweating
If your fever is mild and caused by a common condition like a cold or a flu, you can treat the condition with rest and plenty of fluids. Remember, a fever is a usually a good sign that your body is fighting the infection. If you need to bring fever symptoms under control, use something like Nurofen, which can help lower body temperature and ease any discomfort you have. If you are caring for a child with a fever, do seek prompt medical attention for the following:
• fever in a child under three months of age
• fever accompanied by stiff neck, rash or sensitivity to light
• fever accompanied by drowsiness, confusion or listlessness
• fever accompanied by breathing or swallowing difficulties
• fever accompanied by vomiting
• fever accompanied by pain
In all cases, it is important to seek prompt medical attention if the temperature approaches 40°C, or if it lasts for more than two days without change.
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