When you're extra sweaty after hopping off the Peloton or start dripping in hot yoga (remember those days?), you just take it as a workout well done.
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But what about when you're just sitting down to dinner? Or talking to someone new? What's up with that?
"Sweating is the body's response to controlling body temperature," says Nicholas Pantaleo, MD, a family medicine doctor at Westmed Medical Group in Yonkers, New York. "When your skin is hot, a message is sent to the brain to cause the sweating. As you sweat, the evaporation of the sweat cools off the body," he adds.
So, it makes a lot of sense that you sweat in the heat or during exercise, but there are occasions that produce perspiration that are truly head-scratching. Here's the why behind the wetness and how to decrease the drips.
1. Everyday Life Stuff
You're stressed about a work project that needs to get to your boss, like, yesterday. Or maybe your best friend just got great news and you're both screaming over FaceTime together. All of these emotions can send your body temperature up so you start sweating, Dr. Pantaleo says.
That said, sweating — if it's bothersome or problematic for you — can itself be a stressor, leading to (you guessed it) more stress and sweat. (And the cycle continues.)
"Controlling anxiety can help in this situation, especially working on relaxation techniques that cause less worry," Dr. Pantaleo says.
Hyperhidrosis is a condition marked by excessive sweating.
"Individuals with hyperhidrosis typically sweat about four to five times more than other individuals," Dr. Pantaleo says.
What feels like out-of-control perspiration can occur on its own or be the result of a medical condition, explains the International Hyperhidrosis Society. (More on that below.)
It often starts before age 25, is frequently located on the hands, feet or underarms and episodes of sweating occur at least once a week.
There are effective treatments for hyperhidrosis, including certain antiperspirants and permanent, noninvasive procedures like miraDry, so it's worth it to talk to your doctor.
3. It’s a Symptom of a Health Condition
Serious sweating that's caused by a health condition usually starts in adulthood, often occurs when sleeping and the symptom can be the result of diabetes, menopause, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), gout, rheumatoid arthritis or even lymphoma, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
Seeking proper treatment for your condition will help relieve symptoms and help you feel better all around — including when it comes to sweating.
4. It’s Something You Ate
The last time you ate the red pepper from the Thai dish, you started sweating. Or maybe that steaming bowl of pho is making you take off your sweater. And for good reason: If you're chowing down on something hot, your body temperature goes up and you sweat to bring it back down.
However, if you sweat excessively when sitting down to eat anything — including cold foods — it may be "gustatory sweating," which can happen in response to the same health conditions that lead to hyperhidrosis.
5. It’s Your Medication
Some medications can act on certain parts of your brain and nervous system, ultimately triggering sweating. These include — but aren't limited to — antidepressant medications, like SSRIs and trycyclic antidepressants, NSAIDs like naproxen, opioids, certain antibiotics and antivirals, corticosteroids, thyroid medication and insulin, according to DermNet NZ.
One clue that the sweating is from your meds: It tends to happen all over your body rather than centralized spots (e.g. only on hands or feet).
Your doctor may be able to change the dose, switch you to a different formulation or consider a new medication if perspiration is bothersome.
So, When Should You See Your Doctor?
Assuming you're not concerned that you have an underlying medical problem, you may not need to seek help.
"If the sweating does not bother you and occurs after a specific trigger, you don't necessarily have to do anything about the sweating," Dr. Pantaleo says.
That said, if you have to change your shirt because you're sweating through it or drip with sweat when people around you aren't even glistening, then talk to your doctor about the possibility of hyperhidrosis, he advises.
And, more pressingly, if sweating occurs with red-flag symptoms — shortness of breath, chest pains, heart palpitations, headaches or dizziness — call 911. Breaking out into a cold sweat along with the above symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
Is This an Emergency?
- International Hyperhidrosis Society: “Gustatory Sweating (Frey’s Syndrome)”
- International Hyperhidrosis Society: “Two Types of Hyperhidrosis”
- International Hyperhidrosis Society: “Diseases and Conditions that Can Cause Hyperhidrosis”
- American Heart Association: “Warning Signs of a Heart Attack”
- DermNet NZ: “Drug-induced hyperhidrosis”