Some will argue that sweating is a normal problem in itself. This is an unnecessary lie—one of the less appealing aspects of human physiology that we try to avoid dealing with. Sweating is just your body’s way of cooling down when you’re overheating. Of course, this can be disgusting and annoying. It can get in your eyes, melt your makeup, leave marks on your clothes, and make you smell bad. But you wash it off, apply antiperspirant/deodorant to reduce moisture and odor, and go on with your day. However, for the unfortunate few, sweating isn’t just something that happens when you work out or hang out by the pool in the summer. At best, it’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. The worst case is life-threatening.
When you’re done reading this list, you won’t be disgusted by the occasional little sweat.
10: Hot flashes
When you think of hot flashes, you probably think of menopause, but that’s not the only cause of hot flashes—some drugs and therapies, such as chemotherapy, can work just as well. Most hot flashes are the result of changes in hormone levels, which confuse the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that connects the nervous and endocrine systems) into thinking a woman’s body is overheated, when in fact it isn’t.
Typically, hot flashes begin with a sudden intense feeling of heat on the face and neck that usually spreads to other parts of the body. Women often experience an uncomfortable feeling, or aura, that indicates that they are about to experience a feeling. The skin becomes hot and red to the touch, sometimes called hot flashes. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, leaving the woman’s face and neck dripping with sweat. Some women experience hot flashes during night sweats and describe waking up in a pool of sweat.
And, to avoid giving you the wrong impression, hot flashes don’t just mean getting hot and sweaty without any effort. Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and nausea are common accompanying symptoms of hot flashes.
Some of the triggers for hot flashes are hard to avoid—stress, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, and hot weather. Wearing breathable fabrics such as cotton, using fans and ice packs can help, and hormone therapy and vitamin E supplements are common treatments.
9: Social Sweat
Frequently Asked Questions for Those Trying to Get Hired
It’s normal to sweat when we’re in situations that make us feel anxious, like job interviews and first dates. They trigger our fight-or-flight response, which happens when the body decides that you need to act quickly to deal with a threat soon, either by confronting it or by fleeing. Obviously, an interview or a date isn’t really a threat, but your nervous system doesn’t know that. It sends a message to your sweat glands to perspire so your body can stay cool (and slippery) during this dangerous encounter. Of course, if you’re already nervous, sweating will only make things worse because you’ll start worrying about whether people will notice your sweat.
When this happens, most of us just feel a little sweaty or have clammy hands, but some people sweat because of social anxiety, social phobia, or a panic attack. If your social sweating is accompanied by other physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath or nausea, or if you find yourself avoiding social situations, it may be more than just basic nervousness. The good news is that social anxiety can be effectively treated with behavioral therapy and antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. You may also want to try meditation and breathing exercises.
8: Body odor
You never know when your deodorant will stop working.
You never know when your deodorant will stop working.
If you’ve ever sweated profusely and found yourself wondering about the peculiar smell your body emits, you’ve experienced body odor to some extent. This is the medical term for body odor, or BO sweat itself doesn’t actually smell at all. Body odor comes from bacteria that live on the skin in the areas where certain types of sweat glands are located. The apocrine glands are located in the areola, genital area, and armpits, and (unlike the eccrine glands elsewhere) they produce sweat rich in protein and fatty acids. Apocrine sweat is food for bacteria, which produce a distinctive odor as they metabolize sweat.
We all sweat profusely, so why do some people develop very little body odor, while others quickly become very smelly? Genetics plays a role; some people just sweat more attractive to bacteria, or have more sweat bacteria. Diet kicks in—eating lots of garlic, for example, can lead to worse body odor—and some medications can also cause bad odors. Men also tend to have stronger body odor than women.
If you’re concerned about your unusually strong body odor, try using antibacterial soap and showering more often. A stronger antiperspirant/deodorant will not only help mask the odor, but reduce sweat in the first place.
7: The color of sweat
Most of us know that sweat is transparent, although it can leave yellowish stains on our clothes due to those pesky bacteria. If your sweat comes out of nowhere, say, green, you might think you have a problem. (That’s right.) Fortunately, this rare condition, called chromhidrosis, isn’t usually a sign of a serious problem. However, it does cause staining of clothes, not to mention confusion.
There are two different types of chromhidrosis: one affects the apocrine glands and the other affects the eccrine glands. People with apocrine chromhidrosis may have black, blue, brown, green, or yellow sweat. How does it work? It starts with a pigment granule called lipofuscin, which is produced when unsaturated fatty acids are oxidized in certain types of cells. The buildup of lipofuscin causes the color to be excreted in sweat. Severely oxidized lipofuscin appears brown or black, while less oxidized particles are lighter in color. No one knows why some people have this buildup.
Exocrine chromhidrosis is even rarer and is caused by eating large amounts of foods or drugs that contain dyes. For example, one oft-cited study showed that a nurse who was sweating red regularly ate a snack whose ingredients listed paprika and tomato powder. (Be careful with your snacks.)
Once you’ve identified what’s to blame and removed it from your diet, treating exocrine chromhidrosis is easy. Treatment of apocrine chromhidrosis is more difficult because we don’t even know why it happens.
6: Extra, extra sweat
Not how you want to enter the meeting
When you first learned that hyperhidrosis means excessive sweating, you might wonder how much of a problem it really is. Just use more antiperspirant/deodorant, right? But people with hyperhidrosis don’t just sweat when they exercise. They sweat too much and just sit in it and can produce up to five times as much sweat as the average person. And we’re not talking about some unattractive armpit sweat ring — some people report difficulty driving due to slippery palms, and changing clothes several times a day because shirts and pants get soaked so quickly.
For unknown reasons, people with hyperhidrosis have sweat glands that work overtime far beyond what they need to stay cool under normal conditions. It’s a life-changing problem that leaves some people stuck at home, depressed and socially anxious because they’re ashamed of their condition.
People with hyperhidrosis often purchase numerous over-the-counter products to seek treatment, but in many cases, a visit to a doctor is necessary. Prescription antiperspirants can help, as can Botox injections. A more permanent solution is surgery, which involves severing or clipping the nerve connections responsible for sweating in specific parts of the body. This solution is usually for people with sweaty palms. However, this is risky, and the potential side effect is that the body will signal another part of the body to start sweating to compensate.
5: sweat and blood
As we discussed on the previous pages, colored sweat is unusual enough. Even stranger is a sweating condition called hematohidrosis, in which a person actually sweats. Some cases are caused by other diseases or high blood pressure, but the majority of the 75 or so cases reported over the past hundred years have occurred in situations where the patient is extremely stressed, anxious and fearful. To name a few: a prisoner sentenced to death and a man who lived in London during the Blitz.
According to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a former medical examiner and forensic expert, hematohidrosis is an extreme side effect of the fight-or-flight response. Anxiety and fear are so powerful that it causes the small blood vessels supplying sweat glands to contract tightly and then expand so widely that they bleed blood. The blood mixes with the sweat produced in large quantities due to stress and appears as blood on the surface of the skin. If it sounds painful, it is. Because the condition is so rare and the few people who develop symptoms usually have only one episode, blood sweating remains a problem.
bible blood sweat
Many discussions of hyperhidrosis cite the biblical example of Jesus sweating while praying in Gethsemane before his crucifixion: he prayed more earnestly in agony, and his sweat was like a large drop of blood on the ground (lu Gal 22:44).
4: No sweat at all
Not sweating at all might sound like a good thing, given what we’re talking about so far. But as we’ve pointed out, sweating is necessary to keep the body cool, so not being able to sweat is potentially dangerous. Some people lack this ability to sweat, a condition called anhidrosis or hypohidrosis.
People with anhidrosis may experience dizziness, flushing, nausea, and weakness when exerting force, but hardly sweat. People with mild cases sweat less than normal, or may sweat fewer areas. Extreme conditions can affect the entire body.
Anhidrosis is caused by dysfunction of the sweat glands, and there are a number of potential causes. Children born with sweat glands have no sweat glands at all, or very few sweat glands. Nerve damage is another culprit. For example, diabetes can damage the nerves that control sweat glands, as can skin conditions like psoriasis. Other possibilities: Certain medications and genetic disorders, such as hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (see sidebar).
how do you feel? People with anhidrosis experience painful muscle cramps called heat cramps. They may also experience heat stroke or heat stroke, which occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). If left untreated, heatstroke can be life-threatening—it can lead to coma or death. Mild anhidrosis can be relieved by avoiding extreme temperatures and taking care to stay hydrated and cool during vigorous activity. People who are seriously ill may have to avoid exercise or going out entirely in hot weather.
from head to toe
In addition to affecting sweat glands, the disease can cause other skin problems as well as hair, nails, and dental problems. People with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia usually have little or no hair, no fingernails or toenails, and no teeth or misshapen canines. Horror actor Michael Berryman made a living out of his unique appearance, playing characters such as monsters and aliens.
3: Allergic to your own sweat
People with cholinergic urticaria essentially develop an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to their own sweat or body temperature after their body temperature rises. This condition manifests as an outbreak of hives — small, itchy, red bumps that may also feel like burning or stinging — that can appear anywhere on the body. Elevated body temperature is caused by the usual suspects, such as strenuous activity and eating spicy food. After the initial rise in body temperature or sweating, the rash can last for hours and be very uncomfortable and painful. People with this condition often feel the rash before it occurs, and the rash can sometimes be stopped by taking a cold shower or using a cold pack on the most affected areas.
The cause of cholinergic urticaria is unknown. It can be aggravated by other conditions, or it can be hereditary. The disease is also rarely spread alone. Instead, it brings its buddies — other types of rashes, eczema, or allergies. It’s not a consistent company that comes and goes throughout a person’s life.
Tips for people with cholinergic urticaria: Try to avoid extreme temperature changes and overheating, stay cool in hot weather, and exercise caution when exercising. Some people find relief with alternative treatments such as antihistamines, steroids, and acupuncture.
2: severe acne
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a severe form of acne that affects the apocrine sweat glands and the sebaceous glands (oil) located in the genital area and armpits. These aren’t small pimples — we’re talking clusters of blackheads, painful lesions, and large cysts. The lesions may ooze pus and remain open sores, leading to scarring. Due to pressure and skin-to-skin contact, cysts sometimes rupture, drain pus and develop into open wounds that are difficult to heal. Lumps and lesions can persist for months or years and lead to serious skin infections.
Hidradenitis suppurativa usually begins during adolescence, when both sweat and oil production increase. This fluid gets trapped in pores and hair follicles along with dead skin cells, leading to severe inflammation. We don’t know exactly what causes this extreme acne, but it may be triggered by excess sweat and oil production as well as other factors like obesity and stress. Women are more prone to it than men, and it often flares up around the menstrual cycle. It may also have a genetic component.
The most extreme treatment for this type of acne is to completely remove the affected skin and replace it with a skin graft from the rest of the body, but this is a last resort. Antibiotics, steroids, and drugs to slow or stop oil production in affected areas are first-line treatments. Deep cysts may need to be incised and drained.
1: Historical sweating disease
We’ll end this sweat problem with a sweat problem that hasn’t been discovered in hundreds of years. Known as diaphoresis or diaphoresis, this mysterious disease has swept across Europe since the mid-1400s. The first mention of the disease coincided with the beginning of King Henry VII’s reign, and the last came from a book published in 1551 by an English physician named John Caius.
According to Caius, those with the disease first experience a brief cold phase with shaking, aches and pains. Within minutes or hours, the heat phase begins with profuse sweating, extreme thirst, and heart palpitations. Unlike other epidemics at the time, there were no skin outbreaks or rashes, and it did not appear to affect children. It also hits the upper classes and the rich harder than the poor. When the disease passed through England for the fourth time in 1528, many at Henry VIII’s court contracted the disease. Not all those affected die, but those who do sometimes go through several rounds before crashing. Others died within hours.
One of the most unique things about sweating disease is how quickly it spreads. It usually only affects specific areas for a few weeks. It only appeared in the summer, which gives today’s researchers some clues as to why. One possibility is relapsing fever, a bacterial infection spread by lice and ticks, while others believe it is a hantavirus, but neither disease fits the description. Maybe we will never know.