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Updated: May 26, 2012 18:35 IST

No sweat!

DR CHYTRA V ANAND
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Natasha Kohli, who joined a multi-national company recently, has been “the hot topic” of discussion not just for her impeccable dress sense and curvaceous body but also for her “aroma”. No one likes to be around her. But this is not an isolated problem. Thanks to the scorching heat, body odour due to sweat is a problem faced by many.

Cleanliness and personal hygiene have become a matter of self-esteem today. Personal hygiene is associated with a wide variety of healthy practices and behaviours. Body odour, bad breath or dirty fingernails can play havoc with one's social life.  

Of all the problems in summer, sweating has the most adverse effect. Apart from odour, it also triggers itching and irritation. The discomfort is both physical and emotional.

How it happens

When exposed to a hot or humid environment or when exercising or doing heavy work, glands in the skin start secreting sweat. Sweating also helps eliminate toxins from the body. Thus it has an important role in maintaining optimum physical health. 

But excessive sweating without any stimulation is a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. Those with hyperhidrosis appear to have overactive sweat glands. When excessive sweating affects the hands, feet, and armpits, it's called primary or focal hyperhidrosis. It is thought to be hereditary and the causes are unknown.  

Excessive sweating could also be a symptom of underlying diseases or conditions like Hyperthyroidism (when the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone) and hypoglycaemia (low level of blood sugar). It is called secondary hyperhidrosis. In this case, the sweating may be all over the body or in one area. Excessive sweating can also be psychological in nature when the trigger is an emotional, stressful or traumatic event.

Among women, abnormal sweating often occurs during menopause. This is an indicator of the changes in the relationship between the ovarian hormones and those produced by the pituitary gland. However this varies from person to person. In rare cases abnormal sweating can be a sign of life-threatening diseases like stroke.

Other causes for excessive sweating range from the clothes we wear to the food eat. The consumption of pungent foods like onion, garlic and alcohol is one as is drinking coffee or products containing caffeine.

So what can you do about it? Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise improves your body's overall circulation and make it easier for you to stay cool. Take a bath after an intense work out. Use a mild soap or shower gel to avoid dryness of skin. A common practice to get rid of odour is use of deodorants or talcum powder. However, all this helps only in the case of moderate sweating.

Medical assistance

To deal with excessive sweating, it is best to go for medical assistance. Among the treatments, Botox has been gaining ground. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is FDA approved for the treatment of severe underarm sweating or primary hyperhidrosis. After a harmless and painless starch test to locate the sweat glands, a small dose of Botulinum toxin is injected in each underarm. It temporarily blocks the nerves that stimulate sweating. It also checks the overactive sweat glands and maintains normal sweating levels.  Botox is a one-time treatment and results last for up to nine months. It is a very safe if done by an experienced doctor.

In terms of medication, anti-cholinergic drugs help prevent the stimulation of sweat glands. Although effective for some, these drugs have not been studied. Similarly, Beta-blockers may help reduce stress-related sweating.

Having healthy habits, both in terms of diet and personal care, is essential. However, hyperhidrosis requires medical attention along with routine self-care.

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