The Healthy Geezer: Is Excessive Sweating Normal?

Question: I'm a healthy 71-year-old woman and I sweat a lot. I was wondering if it's something I should discuss with my doctor.

Answer: Heavy sweating, or perspiration, is normal if you are exercising, in a hot environment or you are nervous. It also happens during menopause.

Healthy people sweat, but the amount varies widely. Some people inherit heavy sweating, especially on their palms and the soles of their feet. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, excessive sweating affects about 8 million Americans.

Hyperhidrosis or sweating too much can be caused by a health disorder related to your thyroid gland, nervous system or blood sugar.

You should go to a doctor if, suddenly, you begin to sweat much more (or less) than usual. Other symptoms that should prompt a doctor visit are a change in body odor, the onset of night sweats for no obvious reason, and sweating that disrupts your life.

Perspiration is the body's cooling process. Glands in your skin produce sweat, which is a clear, salty liquid. Most people have several million sweat glands distributed over their bodies. Sweat cools your body as it evaporates. When sweat mixes with bacteria on your skin, it can produce an unpleasant smell. Sweat, itself, is odorless

If heavy sweating and body odor are problems for you, try over-the-counter antiperspirants and deodorants. If these products don't work for you, your doctor may prescribe aluminum chloride.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Botox (botulinum toxin type A), a drug that erases wrinkles, to treat severe underarm sweating that cannot be managed by topical agents. The Botox is injected into the armpit temporarily paralyzing the nerves in the underarm that stimulate sweat production.

There has been an online rumor that links antiperspirants to breast cancer . The National Cancer Institute, the FDA and the American Cancer Society say that no existing scientific or medical evidence links the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants to the development of breast cancer.

Some believe the myth could have been started by women who were told not to wear antiperspirants or deodorants before a mammogram. The instructions were intended to prevent residue from these products showing up in X-rays and being mistaken for an abnormality in the breast.

Here are some tips to deal with sweating and body odor:

  • Don't eat malodorous foods such as garlic.
  • Cut back on the caffeine, which can stimulate sweating.
  • Natural fabrics, such as cotton, leather and wool let your skin breathe. Wear clothing made of these fabrics to permit perspiration to evaporate.
  • Use foot powders to absorb sweat.
  • Change shoes and socks often.
  • Remove your shoes occasionally during the day to allow your feet to dry.
  • Because stress can produce perspiration, you should try meditation or other relaxation techniques to relieve your tension.
  • Shower or bathe more often to eliminate bacteria.

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Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."