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Understanding Sweat

Sweating is a basic, natural body process that regulates body temperature. The human body has approximately 2 to 4 million sweat glands distributed over most of its surface. Sweat glands reduce body temperature by secreting fluid onto the surface of the skin that evaporates and dissipates heat.

Understanding the difference between normal sweating and excessive sweating will help you decide whether you need to find a sweat management specialist in your area for treatment.

Types of Sweat Glands

All sweat glands are activated by signals to the brain caused by a variety of factors like heat, stress, hormones, illness, and physical activities. The 3 types of sweat glands1 are:

Eccrine glands are the most common sweat glands and are found on most of the body. They are most highly concentrated in the palms, soles of the feet, forehead, and cheeks. Eccrine glands are active from birth and help control body temperature. These sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, which is a subsystem of the autonomic nervous system.
Apocrine glands are scent glands and mainly found on parts of the body where hair follicles are concentrated like the scalp, genital area, and armpits. These sweat glands open into hair follicles and are controlled by hormones. They do not become active until puberty.
Apoeccrine glands are mixed sweat glands and are mainly found in the armpits (axillary region) and around the anal area. Their role in hyperhidrosis is unclear.

What is Excessive Sweating?

When sweating becomes excessive and unpredictable, it can be due to a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. This condition can begin as early as age 5, but usually starts during adolescence or early adulthood. People who have hyperhidrosis are commonly bothered by excessive head/face, foot, hand, underarm, or groin sweating.

To find out if you have hyperhidrosis, it is important obtain a diagnosis from a sweat management specialist because excessive sweating can also be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Completing the Hyperhidrosis Disease Severity Scale (HDSS)2, provided on our Diagnosing Hyperhidrosis page, will help you assess whether you might have hyperhidrosis. You can bring your results with you if you decide to consult with a specialist.

1 Haider A, Solish N. Focal hyperhidrosis: diagnosis and management. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2005 January 4, 172(1): 69-75.

2 Solish N, et al. A Comprehensive Approach to the Recognition, Diagnosis, and Severity-Based Treatment of Focal Hyperhidrosis: Recommendations of the Canadian Hyperhidrosis Advisory Committee, p 908 - 923.

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