When It’s OK to #sweatlikeagirl and When It’s Not

Pit stain is normal if you are working out. Not so normal if you are just sitting around watching TV.
Pit stains are normal if you are working out. Not so normal if you are just sitting around watching TV.

Many women worry that they sweat too much. How much is too much? It’s a tricky question with a more complicated answer. Before we explore this issue, let’s be clear on one thing: sweating is normal. In fact, sweating is needed. It’s your body’s way of cooling itself down. So, one of the first things you can do if you think you might sweat too much is recognize that when you are running or working out in general, it’s ok to have some arm pit stains or sweat dripping down your back or sweat in places that make you look like you peed your pants. It’s normal!

What is not normal? I can tell you firsthand.

I’ve been suffering from hyperhidrosis since I was I child. I don’t remember the exact age but one of my earliest memories is soaking up an entire sheet of loose leaf paper after completing a test. I didn’t turn in the paper until it dried but by that time, it had become warped. I remember being teased lightheardly as a kid by friends and family, “Man, Jing, you’re hands are so sweaty,” as if my hands were a freak of nature. My least favorite part of Catholic mass was shaking hands while giving the sign of peace. I had it perfectly timed in the mass on when to start fanning my hands with the miselet (“Take this all of you and eat it”). Rarely would they be dry in time for peace. My extended hand would more often than not be cold and clammy.

As the years went on I struggled with bouts of yeast infections and athlete’s foot but didn’t think to relate the occurrences with excessive sweating. Instead of seeking medical advice I just assumed I was always going to be this way, that there was no easy fix.  And really, it made for some fun stories: like the time I carried around a rosin bag in my clutch during 10th grade homecoming dance. After all, it was my first time with a date.

These were cupcakes that my mom made me for my 30th birthday, highlighting my life. If you look closely, you see sweaty hands. I still love you, Mom.
These were cupcakes that my mom made me for my 30th birthday, highlighting my life. If you look closely, you see sweaty hands. I still love you, Mom.

It wasn’t until I went to a dermatologist last fall to address what I thought was adult acne. Turns out it was actually fungal related. And fungus was the result of sweating, and sweating was the result of…

Nerves. One of the main reasons for excessive sweating is an overactive nerve response. Not that my family meant any harm, but their occasional teasing at such a young age more than likely created a stress response in me so that I eventually feared extending or using my sweaty hands. Teasing aside, let’s say you happened to have an episode where your office building’s air conditioner broke. It’s 100 degrees outside. You wore light blue jeans to work that day and when you stand up, you look like you peed your pants. Not only is this another real life example, but also an example of how an isolated incident can snowball such that the next time something similar happens, it invokes a similar stress response.

Excessive sweating can also stem from other physical symptoms so it’s important to see your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Sweating disrupts your daily routine. Writing, opening things, driving, and holding things are just some of the daily activities that may become a challenge for someone suffering with excessive sweating.
  • You suddenly begin to sweat more than usual. This can happen because of stress, hormones, or other medical conditions such as low blood sugar, hyperthyroidism, certain cancers, and infectious diseases.
  • You experience night sweats for no apparent reason. Just as stress, hormones, and medical conditions can cause night sweats, so can certain medications.

None of these sound very fun so that is why it is important to see your doctor if you are concerned about your sweating. If you do see your doctor and the diagnosis is in fact hyperhidrosis, congratulations! Your condition is not one of the more serious ones noted earlier. Also, there are a few treatment options available to try. However, the treatment process is often experimental and doesn’t always work effectively for everyone.

  • Aluminum Chloride. I was given a prescription strength roll on of aluminum chloride that can be used on hands, feet, and under arms. It essentially works like deodorant but at a higher strength. Side effects can include itching and burning. You apply it at night on clean hands, feet, and/or armpits, cover the area with saran wrap, then add extra coverage, like a sock, for overnight absorption. You repeat the process for 2-3 nights in a row and then every couple days after that. This application process is part of the reason why I haven’t tried it yet. I guess it’s a habit I have to work up to doing.
The prescription I haven't started yet looks like this.
The prescription I haven’t started yet looks like this.
  • Botox  injections. These injections block the chemical that tells the gland to sweat. For effectiveness, you may need to do injections a couple of times before achieving success that could last up to one year.
  • Iontophoresis. No one really knows why this treatment works to prevent excessive sweating but it is one of the more effective forms of treatment. You place your hands or feet into a small tray of water for about 30 minutes while a small electric current travels through the water. It is thought that the current blocks sweat from reaching the skin’s surface. You can even buy a machine for home use.
  • Oral Medications. Your doctor can prescribe oral medications that block the sweat glands but the side effects of upset stomach, hives, and liver damage may not be worth the risk.
  • Surgery. You can have your sweat gland removed all together if none of the above treatments seem to work. However, one of the risks of surgery is that you may start to sweat excessively in another area of the body. Just goes to show that we need sweat!
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Hyperhidrosis is often both a physical and mental condition. Physical in the sense that your body has learned to associate sweating with stress and mental in the sense that your brain has trained your body to respond to stress with an overabundance of it. A lifelong bought of excessive sweating will likely not be cured by CBT as the body has learned this response. It tends to become automatic. However, it can be significantly decreased when used in conjunction with some of the other physical treatment methods.

If you are concerned about your sweating, it is best to see a medical professional. But for most of you out there, be assured that it is ok to #sweatlikeagirl. And if you sweat like a girl with hyperhidrosis, there’s are groups to get connected with for added support. The International Hyperhidrosis Society is a great place to start.

Do you sweat a lot? Do you have any horror stories about your excessive sweating? Please share in the comments below!

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. I sure do sweat like a girl – the hormonal problems girls of a certain age get… I once started with my warm-up before a race and after less than one hundred meters of really slow jogging I had a huge sweat attack. I was soaked before the race even started. The first few kilometres of the race were a bit uncomfortable but the rest went fine as I got to my normal sweating level. So not really a horror story. I try not to make a big problem of it, although this increased sweating can be uncomfortable and sometimes embarrasing. But as long as I am healthy and can run, I’m fine 😉

  2. Good tips on trying not to make a big problem of it. Someone once told me if I ever have to shake someone’s hand and theirs is not as sweaty as mine, I should immediately say, “wow, your hands are so dry!” It throws them off from noticing the sweat of your hands.