Do you ever notice people that are profusely sweating? On the subway, at work, on the street? Yes, you do? Well I don’t, because I am too occupied with my own case of hyperhidrosis — the medical term for abnormally excessive sweating — more than is needed for body temperature regulation.
It starts in the morning after I take a shower. I’m already getting nervous about wet spots under my arm before I get dressed. And stressing about it makes it worse of course, but I don’t know how to stop it. When I leave the house it is not that bad yet and for a moment I think that I will survive the day.
But then I start walking to the subway and as a result I am working up a sweat. During the summer, as you very well know, many subway platforms double as saunas and this is not benefiting my condition. By the time the train arrives, I feel self-conscious about every passenger focusing on me (or my armpits for that matter).
The cool subway car gives some relief, but I have to switch trains and thus endure another platform experience. By the time I arrive at work I look as if I just ran a marathon.
As I alluded to earlier, the reason for sweating is not always to cool down the body. Fear, stress and anxiety can also lead to sweating — you might have had that experience when you went on a job interview. But that is not the same as hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating in “normal” situations (and the surrounding temperature can aggravate it).
In my case, this ailment stems from subtle anxiety. The type of anxiety that you do not really notice. For example, being on time for a meeting or initiating a conversation. These are daily situations that do not require extreme angst, but they do come with a tiny little bit of stress. The stress that I actually need to function and be on point.
I don’t notice this type of anxiety consciously, but it manifests itself through my pores. And as a result I actually start to experience more excessive stress, start clenching my arms so that no-one will see, which makes the situation even worse. Now comes the question of how to remedy this. I looked it up and found several solutions online:
Antiperspirants: you can buy regular or clinical (a bit stronger) antiperspirant over the counter or see a doctor and get the prescribed version with an even higher doses of aluminum-based compound (the effective ingredient in antiperspirant). I tried the clinical-over-the-counter variety, but it only seems to make it worse. Antiperspirants clog up the pores to stop the sweating and in my case my body is working even harder to push the droplets out.
Talcum powder: this seems to help temporarily, but be careful with application — before you know it you are covered in white dust and people might get the wrong impression as to the origin of that white powder. And even if applied while still in the nude, you will find your clothes all dusty if you’re not careful with dressing.
Iontophoresis is another option. This treatment uses low-level electrical impulses to temporarily disable the sweat glands. That sounds horrific and I don’t like the temporary nature of it. This means I have to endure electric shock therapy from time to time? No thank you m’aam!
There are also some medications that can stop the sweat glands from kicking into action. I could try this, but I am not a fan of medication in general and prefer not to go this route either.
Botox injections are supposed to help as well. I will have amazing armpits without any wrinkles whatsoever! But this solution is again a temporary one and I would have to go back for a fresh set of injections every eight months or so. The pictures that I saw of these injections are scary.
The most extreme cases will benefit from surgery — either cutting off the nerves that trigger excessive sweating or by surgically removing some of the sweat glands. Not going to do that either.
So none of these options are working for me. What then? Well, I had a revelation the other day. Knowing that my sweating is connected to anxiety, I started to think of any causes of stress in my life. Yes, a work day comes with stress, but not in a way that it should lead to so much transpiration.
I am continuously in meetings, have to present to people, speak on panels. I like doing those things and they come with a healthy doses of stress that you need to perform well as I mentioned before. Something else dawned upon me and I think I found my solution.
It has to do with smoking cigarettes. Although smoking is generally perceived (by smokers) as an anxiety reducer, it actually increases stress. Every time you light up a cancer stick, your stress level will go slightly down – this is true – but after you finish the cigarette, your stress level will go up again and to a level that is slightly higher than it was before you smoked your cigarette. As a result, your general stress level will increase gradually over time. The following graph illustrates this.
There we have it: smoking leads to subtly increasing stress levels which leads to profusely sweating armpits! Bingo, I found the cure for me. Quit smoking.