Excessive Underarm Sweating

Man with excessive sweat stains.
Excessive sweating may be difficult to control with over-the-counter antiperspirants.
© iStockphoto.com/Martti Salmela

You've probably heard the phrase, "Don't sweat it." But the truth is that everyone does. In fact, sweating is something your body needs to do -- you need to perspire so that you don't overheat.

When you perspire, the sweat glands in your skin secrete sweat, which then evaporates, lowering your surface temperature [source: P&G]. During a workout or when the mercury soars, this is a normal occurrence. But if you're like the small percentage of the population that suffers from excessive sweating, this occasional dewiness turns to a veritable deluge. You may feel like you sweat all the time, even when those around you stay dry and comfortable. Leisurely activities, such as sitting around the house watching television or chatting with friends over a refreshing glass of lemonade, turn you into a damp mess.


If you find that being a couch potato makes you all hot and steamy, you may suffer from a rare condition called axillary hyperhidrosis (excessive underarm sweating), which affects about 1 percent of the population. Technically, axillary hyperhidrosis refers to excessive perspiration from your armpits that cannot be controlled by over-the-counter antiperspirants or deodorants [source: The Center for Hyperhidrosis].

To determine if you suffer from this condition, consider how often and how heavily you sweat. If you find that at least once a week you sweat enough to soak through your clothes, that you experience constant clamminess or excessive perspiration and that any or all of this is interfering with your social life, you may want to seek treatment for axillary hyperhidrosis. Most people perspire when they are hot or when they are stressed. Therefore, the important thing to note about axillary hyperhidrosis is that sweating occurs when you normally wouldn't sweat, or wouldn't sweat that much.

Also, you should be aware that excessive sweating can be caused by medications, disease or hormonal changes, such as menopause. If you suddenly develop excessive sweating, consult your doctor to rule out any of these extenuating factors [source: Mayo Clinic].

But if your excessive sweating isn't a result of any of these factors, there may be other causes at work. Learn about them on the next page.


Causes of Excessive Underarm Sweating

You probably know that sweating is your body's way of cooling itself. If you suffer from axillary hyperhidrosis, however, your sweating may have nothing to do with heat. It is typically caused by overactivity in the sympathetic nervous system, a part of the nervous system that is responsible for the "fight-or-flight" response.

The exact cause of this condition depends on which form of hyperhidrosis you suffer from. Generalized hyperhidrosis typically occurs suddenly in people who have not experienced hyperhidrosis in the past, and usually has an identifiable cause. Illnesses such as endocarditis or lymphoma, medications, obesity and low blood sugar are often found to be causes of generalized hyperhidrosis [source: Mayo Clinic]. After treating the underlying cause, excessive sweating usually goes away.


Focal hyperhidrosis is a different story. In this form of hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating is focused in one part of your body -- such as on your palms, the soles of your feet or your underarms -- in which you sweat for no apparent reason. The cause of focal hyperhidrosis is unknown, although research suggests it is a genetic condition, as 50 to 60 percent of research test subjects have shown to have a genetic link to other sufferers [source: The Center for Hyperhidrosis].

So deodorants don't work for you -- but that doesn't mean you have to suffer from profuse perspiration. To learn how you can treat axillary hyperhidrosis, keep reading.


Medications for Excessive Underarm Sweating

You've tried a variety of regular deodorants, but nothing seems to tame your axillary hyperhidrosis. Before you give up, you might want to try some other products. For example, your physician can prescribe an antiperspirant made from aluminum chloride. These prescription deodorants work by forming gel plugs in the sweat glands, which help to prevent excessive sweating. Recent studies have even shown that aluminum chloride gel works effectively without as many side effects, such as rashes or itchiness, as previous treatment options [source: Bankhead].

Another option is an oral medication; anticholinergic drugs block acetylcholine -- the chemical that stimulates sweat glands to produce sweat. However, anticholinergic drugs don't only affect acetylcholine -- they affect your whole system, and often carry side effects such as dry mouth, blurry vision and dizziness [source: Mayo Clinic].


A third option is botulinum toxin -- more commonly known as Botox. Studies have shown that intradermal injections of Botox -- injections that go in or between the layers of your skin -- can provide long-term relief from excessive sweating. In early studies, out of 182 research volunteers, 92 percent needed four or fewer Botox injections over a two-year period [source: WebMD]. However, with an out-of-pocket price tag of $500 to $1,000 per treatment, Botox can be prohibitive if your insurance doesn't cover it for axillary hyperhidrosis [source: International Hyperhidrosis Society].

You might not have to head to the pharmacy or the doctor's office to treat your excessive sweating. Read on to learn about home remedies you can try to calm your overactive sweat glands.


Home Remedies for Excessive Underarm Sweating

Treatment options such as prescription antiperspirants, medication, Botox and surgery are typically used for moderate to severe cases of axillary hyperhidrosis. If, however, you suffer from a milder form, you may want to try some home remedies before seeking professional treatment.

Some popular dietary tips include eliminating so called "trigger foods" -- foods that make you sweat. These sweat-inducing comestibles include spicy dishes like curries, sugary desserts and caffeine-heavy beverages and foods [source: Kapoor, Mayo Clinic]. Another dietary plan is to avoid foods that are difficult to digest -- raw vegetables, fruit, dairy products and red meat -- because the additional exertion required to metabolize these can induce perspiration [source: Kapoor].


Homeopathic topical remedies are also popular. Ingredients are as close as your cupboard. You can dust your armpits with cornstarch, which helps to absorb moisture, or apply a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to counteract odor, both reportedly help balance pH levels in the skin. You can also try applying steeped black tea, a natural astringent, to your underarms to help control perspiration.

In addition to these treatments, there are some preventative measures you can try. Wearing clothes made or natural fibers or clothes designed to wick moisture can help prevent excessive sweating. Bathing daily can also help, particularly in controlling odor associated with hyperhidrosis, as it prevents bacteria from building up on your skin.

Just remember that most of these remedies typically are effective only among people who sweat normally or suffer from very mild forms of axillary hyperhidrosis. Since heat and stress aren't the only causes of this condition, you may need stronger measures to treat the problem.

To learn more about axillary hyperhidrosis or hyperhidrosis in general, peruse the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Atkins, J.L., Butler, P.E.M. "Treating hyperhidrosis: Excision of axillary tissue may be more effective." British Medical Journal. (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1118569
  • Bankhead, Charles. "AAD: Aluminum Chloride Gel Controls Hyperhydrosis Without Irritation." MedPage Today. (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AAD/13208
  • The Center for Hyperhidrosis. "Armpit Sweating (Axillary Hyperhidrosis)." (Accessed 9/26/09)http://www.sweaty-palms.com/sweaty_armpit_sweating.html
  • The Center for Hyperhidrosis. "Causes and Symptoms of Excessive Sweating." (Accessed 9/26/09)http://www.sweaty-palms.com/sympt.html
  • The Center for Hyperhidrosis. "Surgical Treatments." (Accessed 9/278/09)http://www.sweaty-palms.com/detailsofsurgery.html#axillary
  • Goldstein, Laura. "The Deodorant in Your Pantry." Prevention 53, no. 7, July 2001. Accessed online via Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 10/28/09).
  • International Hyperhidrosis Society. "Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Botox." Sweat Solutions. (Accessed 9/26/09)http://www.sweatsolutions.org/sweatsolutions/Article.asp?ArticleCode=92983528&EditionCode=57326027
  • Kapoor, Anjali. "Sweating the small stuff?." Chatelaine. February 2000. Accessed online via MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 10/28/09).
  • Mayo Clinic. "Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)." (Accessed 9/26/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hyperhidrosis/DS01082/DSECTION=symptoms
  • Mayo Clinic. "Sweating and Body Odor." (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sweating-and-body-odor/DS00305/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
  • P & G Beauty and Grooming. "Functions of the Dermis." (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.pgbeautygroomingscience.com/functions-of-the-dermis.html