What is hyperhidrosis?

In hyperhidrosis, your body’s sweat glands overact. This overactivity causes you to sweat a lot, at times and places where other people wouldn’t.

Sometimes, a medical condition or emotion (like anxiety) triggers excessive sweating. For many people with hyperhidrosis, controlling symptoms can be a constant challenge.

What is focal hyperhidrosis?

Focal hyperhidrosis is a chronic skin disorder that you can inherit from your family. It results from a mutation (change) in your genes. It is also called primary hyperhidrosis. Most people who sweat excessively have focal hyperhidrosis.

Focal hyperhidrosis usually affects only the armpits, hands and feet, and head. It tends to start early in life, before age 25.

What is generalized hyperhidrosis?

Generalized hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that happens due to another medical problem. Many medical conditions (like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease) can cause your body to sweat more than usual. Some medications, such as naproxen (Aleve®) and zinc supplements (Cold-Eeze®), cause extra sweating as a side effect.

Generalized hyperhidrosis, also called secondary hyperhidrosis, tends to occur in adults.

How common is hyperhidrosis?

Estimates suggest between 2% and 5% of people in the U.S. have hyperhidrosis. However, that number may be higher. Many people who sweat excessively don’t talk about their symptoms and never tell their healthcare provider. That makes it hard to gauge how many people hyperhidrosis affects.

What causes hyperhidrosis?

Sweating is how your body cools itself when it gets too hot (when you’re exercising, sick or really nervous). Nerves tell your sweat glands to start working. In hyperhidrosis, certain sweat glands work overtime for no apparent reason, producing sweat that you don’t need.

Focal hyperhidrosis commonly results from:

  • Certain odors and foods, including citric acid, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter and spices.
  • Emotional stress, especially anxiety.
  • Heat.
  • Spinal cord injury.

Generalized or secondary hyperhidrosis can result from:

In secondary hyperhidrosis, a medical condition or medication causes you to sweat more than usual. Medical experts haven’t uncovered what causes the body to produce extra sweat in focal hyperhidrosis.

Can hyperhidrosis be passed down in families?

Focal hyperhidrosis runs in families, which suggests a genetic link. While it’s common for multiple members of one family to have hyperhidrosis, you may not know it. That’s because lots of people with hyperhidrosis don’t feel comfortable talking about their symptoms.

What symptoms does hyperhidrosis cause?

Hyperhidrosis symptoms can range widely in their severity and impact on your life. Minor symptoms may ebb and flow over a long time. Or excessive sweating may be an everyday challenge, a constant source of frustration and insecurity.

Hyperhidrosis affects people differently. Sweat may:

  • Pool under your arms or around your back.
  • Soak your shirt to the point that you need to change clothes to feel comfortable.
  • Bead on your cheeks or forehead.
  • Dampen or drip down your hands or soak your socks.

Excessive sweating may also lead to:

  • Itching and inflammation when sweat irritates the affected area.
  • Body odor, when bacteria on the skin mix with sweat particles.
  • Residue from combinations of sweat, bacteria and chemicals (deodorants), leaving noticeable marks on clothing.
  • Skin changes, such as paleness or other discoloration, cracks or wrinkles.
  • Maceration (unusually soft or disintegrating skin) on the soles of your feet.

Your symptoms may offer clues to the type of hyperhidrosis you have. Excessive sweating due to focal hyperhidrosis usually affects both sides of the body (both hands or feet). Focal hyperhidrosis doesn’t cause night sweats and doesn’t go away without treatment. People with generalized hyperhidrosis may sweat while sleeping.

What parts of the body does hyperhidrosis affect?

Generalized hyperhidrosis makes you sweat all over. Focal hyperhidrosis mostly affects the:

  • Armpits (axillary hyperhidrosis).
  • Bottoms (soles) of the feet (plantar hyperhidrosis).
  • Face, including the cheeks and forehead.
  • Lower back.
  • Genitals.
  • Undersides (palms) of the hands (palmar hyperhidrosis).

Does sweat smell bad?

Sweat by itself is odorless, made up of mostly water. However, sweat can cause a noticeable body odor when bacteria on the skin come into contact with sweat droplets. Bacteria break down the molecules that make up sweat. The bacteria at work cause a pungent smell.

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