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What It's Like to Live With Hyperhidrosis, or Excessive Sweating

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Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, can be extremely difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Performing in public and speaking in public have frequently caused me to sweat profusely. In my past jobs — when I would perform children’s storytimes, teach computer classes or talk in front of a high school class — I would sweat excessively. Once, during a computer class for seniors, I heard someone remark to a classmate: “She seems to be sweating a lot.” Sometimes, out of frustration, I have wanted to scream at people who make comments like this.

Of course, I realize I’m sweating a lot – it’s mortifying. The worst thing about having this condition, for me, is that it is impossible to hide. Whether I am having a conversation with someone and my body starts to overheat, or all eyes are on me because I’m giving a speech – I can’t actually hide my sweating from anyone. If I could physically hide the beads of sweat running down my face, my soaked hair or clothing, it would make having this condition better. Although I have never been formally diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, I know enough about my experiences with excessive sweating and my research about the disorder to know I have it.

As a result of these experiences, I actively avoid situations where I know I will sweat heavily; thus, I choose to no longer have a job where I need to perform children’s storytimes, teach computer classes or talk in front of groups. Several times after going to the gym, I’ve run an errand at the grocery store, my shirt nearly saturated with sweat. More than once, someone checking me out has asked me if it’s “raining outside.” I know people are good-natured and they generally don’t mean any harm when they ask questions like this, but it is humiliating nonetheless. It is the biggest life challenge I struggle with on a daily basis.

Some people with hyperhidrosis experience excessive sweating in only certain areas of the body. My experience with hyperhidrosis has been with my entire body. I first noticed I was sweating more profusely than others around the seventh grade, when I would wonder why the waistline of my pants was damp during school. Any kind of exercise resulted in my face being extremely red and my perspiring excessively. I tended to avoid junior high and high school dances because dancing, of course, caused me to sweat, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my friends or worse still, boys. I attended a private Catholic school through junior high school and we had to wear white uniform shirts and plaid skirts. Because my underarms sweated so profusely, my mom couldn’t hand down my uniform shirts to my sister due to the yellow underarm stains on the shirts. When I would perform my piano recitals, my palms would leave small droplets on the keys, and when I would take my final exams my hands would leave dampness on my pencil and test paper. Somehow, at the time, I knew this wasn’t normal. Knowing it wasn’t good to be “abnormal,” I tried to hide it as best as was possible from my classmates. I remember during eighth-grade graduation, having to hold hands with a boy I liked in church before the ceremony. I frequently had to wipe my palms on my dress to dry off the dampness. I hated having to do that. I worried he thought I was some kind of freak. Girls weren’t supposed to sweat as much as boys. Why couldn’t I be “normal,” if only for one day?

Having hyperhidrosis is difficult, especially as a woman. Women aren’t supposed to sweat as much as men; at least, that’s what society says. I sweat much more than my fiancée; working out will require me to take a shower afterward, where his face gets a little shiny as the result of a hard workout. It is frustrating at best, embarrassing at worst. Sometimes I sweat for no reason, like in the morning, or right before I get my period. Doing light cleaning, putting away laundry, vacuuming and cooking are all things that trigger my sweat glands in a massive way. Being under anxiety or stress can also trigger my sweat glands to start gushing. Sometimes, I’m not really sure what’s going to set off the sweating. Drinking hot drinks (especially when it’s hot outside) can also trigger my sweating, so I usually stick to iced coffee. I also take colder showers to cool my body down after a particularly heavy workout or sweating episode.

Living in the South was perhaps not the best choice for someone with my condition. I jumped at the chance when I was offered a job in Florida and made the move from Ohio; I have dealt with the heat and humidity that comes with living here as gracefully as possible. Several years ago I had a rash under my breasts due to the heat and humidity that required a special dermatological cream to be applied. Finally, that went away, but now the problem seems to have migrated to my groin area, and I have had ongoing chafing in my vaginal area. To say it is uncomfortable and an inconvenience is an understatement. There are times, when I’ve had a particularly hot and sweaty day, worked out or been outside in the heat, that I will take three showers in one day. Luckily this isn’t every day, but it does happen sometimes.

About eight years ago, I did have Botox injections under my arms and along my forehead, which was a godsend. The freedom from underarm sweat was priceless but expensive. The lack of sweat under my armpits lasted for approximately eight months, and then the all-too-familiar dampness returned. Also, the Botox injections were not covered by my insurance at the time, and I had to pay approximately $1,500 out of pocket for the relief from underarm sweat, which is not disposable income I have readily available.

There is some evidence hyperhidrosis is genetic. That is certainly the case in my situation. My father, my sister and my aunt all struggle with the disorder to varying degrees. Of the four of us, my father and I seem to experience the condition to a greater extent than my sister and aunt. My sister has more problems with underarm sweating; I seem to sweat all over, sometimes with very little exertion. Also, high humidity causes me to sweat excessively as well; my body is like a barometer for rain, and I always start sweating before it rains.

There are several options for treating hyperhidrosis, including Botox; unfortunately, it wasn’t covered by my health insurance at the time. Prescription antiperspirants can be applied at night and removed in the morning to good effect (I have used Drysol, though currently I do not – I use Secret Clinical Strength, and it works well for me). At the extreme end, it is possible to have surgery. Surgery is not without risks, however; compensatory sweating can be a result, and according to some accounts I have read online, can be just as disabling as the hyperhidrosis once was.

I am hopeful research will present better, more permanent solutions in my lifetime, and if I do choose to have children, I hope they won’t suffer through my experiences. Science will someday find a better way to manage the condition; the sooner this happens, the sooner I will be able to go salsa dancing with my fiancée. Until then, I find ways to “manage” my condition. I go dancing very infrequently, and for short periods of time. I wear certain colors in order to avoid sweat staining my clothing. I wear cloth headbands to yoga class in order to help staunch the flow of sweat – I can only imagine what it would be like if I took a hot yoga class!

Those closest to me love and accept me. I am grateful for my husband’s love and acceptance. I know certain men would find my condition to be utterly gross, and they would find me to be unattractive because of it. Likewise, I was in Miami with my fiancée and his mom a few months ago, and we walked to his sister’s condo to meet with the rest of the family. It was about a 20 to 25-minute walk. It wasn’t a particularly hot night — probably around 75 degrees — but it was humid. After we arrived, I was sweating profusely. His sister and mom kindly suggested I wipe off my drenched hair with a hand towel from the guest bathroom, which I did.

My condition never leaves me, and I have learned to keep a sense of humor about it, or I would never survive some of the indignities of living with hyperhidrosis.

Getty Images photo via Pimonpim Tangosol

Originally published: August 10, 2019
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