Why Sweating at Work Can be a Serious Problem

by Angela Ballard

As people go about their daily work lives, there’s a common but hidden scourge: excessive sweating. In fact, a national survey conducted by the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHhS) shows millions of people suffer from extreme, uncomfortable, embarrassing, debilitating and emotionally devastating sweating. This type of sweating is a serious condition known as hyperhidrosis, and nearly 367 million people of all ages struggle with it. 

While many attempt to hide the problem and suffer in silence, the impacts are often hard to cover up. Dramatic sweating in the presence of peers can cause severe embarrassment, stress, anxiety and other emotional issues. Even when people are alone, hyperhidrosis often takes a heavy toll—adversely impacting one’s productivity in a myriad of ways, both professionally and personally.

People with hyperhidrosis struggle with disproportionate and random sweating that may drench clothing and footwear, damage technology tools, ruin papers, make holding writing instruments impossible, promote hiding and isolation, degrade self-esteem and even prompt bullying. The holistic effect on life is thus profound. Research indicates that the majority of those with this condition confirm it has negative impacts on their social life, well-being and emotional and mental health. 

So significant is this problem in the workplace that international powerhouse AT&T, with nearly a quarter of a million employees worldwide, recently established hyperhidrosis as one of the relatively common medical conditions it recognizes as a disability. The effort is aimed at helping employees who suffer with the condition to perform optimally and benefit from accommodations fostering greater comfort, creativity and productivity.

“The pressures of dealing with a ‘sweating problem’ around workplace and other peers can be catastrophic to self-esteem and more,” notes Lisa J. Pieretti, executive director of the International Hyperhidrosis Society. “Too often, people become anxious about going to work, socializing with the boss or other associates, or being out in public in general. But when those with hyperhidrosis receive support, understanding and appropriate treatment, their lives can be dramatically changed.”

While hyperhidrosis is the number-one dermatological disease in terms of negatively affecting a person's quality of life, it’s also number-one in having the most positive impact when treated, adds IHhS co-founder Dr. David Pariser. “When hyperhidrosis is caught early, a person’s life can be transformed for the better in a multitude of ways.” With that in mind, the first step toward providing solutions is to bust some common myths and misconceptions:

Myth #1: Those with hyperhidrosis don’t suffer during workplace activities.
Truth:
In a recent 2017 study, 63 percent of those with hyperhidrosis reported interference in the performance of tasks at work or school due to their condition.

Myth #2: Sweat is to blame for stains on your work clothes and uniforms.
Truth:
Ironically, it’s actually your antiperspirant combined with your sweat that leads to staining. Apply antiperspirant at night to help avoid this. As a bonus, your antiperspirant will actually work better, too.

Myth #3: Sweaty people are nervous, have hygiene issues or are out of shape.
Truth:
People with hyperhidrosis sweat excessively regardless of mood, weather or activity level—often producing four or five times more sweat than is considered “normal.” If you find yourself sweating a lot during exercise, don’t blame it on being out of shape. Research shows that physically fit people actually sweat more and start sweating sooner during exercise than those who are less fit. But if you sweat excessively and uncontrollably (more than what seems “normal” as a reaction to exercise or heat), you may have hyperhidrosis.

Myth #4: You can sweat out toxins… like that happy-hour hangover.
Truth:
Sweat is basically water, sodium chloride and potassium, regardless of what you ate or drank yesterday. Sweating does not rid your body of “toxins”—your kidneys, liver, lungs and digestive system do that. Sweat glands reside in your skin and aren’t connected to the waste-elimination systems in your body. Want to help your body get rid of “bad” stuff? Eat well, stay hydrated and exercise. Sorry, no shortcuts.

Myth #5: Men and women sweat equally.
Truth:
While prepubescent girls and boys sweat about the same volume, once hormones kick in, sweating starts to vary between the sexes—men tend to begin sweating sooner and in higher volume (with activity or heat) than women. Scientists point to testosterone, which enhances men’s sweat response. Estrogen plays a role here too, promoting lower body temperatures in women. Another reason guys tend to sweat more is because they’re often bigger—the bigger the body, the more heat it generates and the more it needs to cool down. If, however, you sweat uncontrollably and excessively so that you drench your clothes, ruin your iPhone or turn leather shoes into sponges, you may have hyperhidrosis. And men and women are equally impacted.

Myth #6: All sweat is the same, and all sweat stinks.
Truth:
There are actually two types of sweat glands that each produce their own type of sweat. Eccrine sweat is an odorless, clear fluid that helps the body control its temperature by promoting heat loss through evaporation. It’s mostly made up of water and salt. Apocrine sweat, on the other hand, is “stress” sweat, and apocrine glands are found mostly in the armpits and genital region (near dense pockets of hair follicles.) Apocrine sweat is a thick fluid that’s initially odorless, but doesn’t evaporate as quickly as eccrine sweat and can develop an odor when it combines with normal bacteria on the surface of the skin. The odor produced is that potent smell we often call “body odor.” Fortunately, there are ways to manage stress sweat. Antiperspirants are the first step and work on both types of sweat. For stress-related odor, make sure you’re using a deodorant, too. 

Myth #7: Antiperspirants are for underarms only and, like caffeine, are best used in the morning.
Truth:
Think outside the pits! You can glide, stick, spray and roll on nearly anywhere that sweating is a problem (hands, feet, face, back, chest and even groin.) Talk to your dermatologist first before applying an antiperspirant to sensitive areas, and test new products on small areas of skin first. Luckily, there are antiperspirant brands like Certain Dri that are specifically formulated to help with excessive sweating. Be sure to use your antiperspirant in the evening and in the morning. Sweat production is at its lowest at night, giving the active ingredients in antiperspirants time to get into your pores and block perspiration by the time the sun comes up.

Myth #8: Antiperspirants can cause breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Truth:
According to the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, National Cancer Institute, BreastCancer.org and the Alzheimer’s Association, there are no strong scientific studies reporting a statistical association between antiperspirant use and breast cancer or Alzheimer’s risk. If you’re still concerned, you don’t need to ditch your antiperspirants—focus instead on having regular health screenings, avoiding alcohol, exercising regularly, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying mentally and socially involved, and protecting yourself from head injuries.

Myth #9: Excessive sweating is less debilitating than other skin conditions.
Truth: According to Dr. Pariser, hyperhidrosis has the greatest impact of any dermatological disease. In fact, various investigations show its impact on quality of life is equal or greater than that of in-patient psoriasis, severe acne, Darier disease, Hailey-Hailey disease, vitiligo and chronic pruritus.

The extreme levels of sweat production experienced with hyperhidrosis can disrupt all aspects of life, from workplace performance, relationships and recreational activities to self-image and overall emotional well-being. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Resources are available to help people with hyperhidrosis not just “know sweat,” but to achieve a more comfortable, fruitful and happier life. iBi

For more information, visit the IHhS at sweathelp.org.

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