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Health Answers

What can you do about excessive sweating?

Q. What can you do about excessive sweating?

A. Many people worry about controlling sweat — the multi-billion dollar antiperspirant and deodorant market attests to that — but for certain people, it’s a socially debilitating problem.

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Robert Stern, chief of dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says that treatment for excessive sweating, also called hyperhidrosis, depends on what triggers it and where it occurs in the body. “Most people with too much sweating tend to have regional sweating,” he said — the palms, soles of the feet, armpits and groin, or face and scalp are common problem areas. More generalized sweating could be an indication of a thyroid problem or other underlying disease, which should be ruled out by a doctor.

Stern says that people whose sweating is triggered by anxiety or stressful situations can try addressing the underlying anxiety using biofeedback, relaxation strategies, or even medication.

Clinical strength antiperspirants, available over-the-counter or by prescription, can plug up the sweat glands and are helpful for the armpits, soles of the feet, and sometimes hands.

A treatment called iontophoresis delivers a mild electric current to sweat glands, particularly the hands and feet. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is an effective treatment for excess underarm sweating, and sometimes for palms and soles, but Stern says it is costly, somewhat painful, and only temporarily effective. Certain medications can curb excess sweating but “the success rate is pretty low,” he says. For the most extreme cases, surgeons can perform a procedure called sympathectomy, severing nerves that stimulate sweating.

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