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How to treat sweaty hands

Having sweaty hands on occasion is normal, but how do you know when you’re sweating too much? Joseph Dyer, D.O., a dermatologist at Piedmont, says excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, is a common reason people see their dermatologist.

“Everyone should sweat under certain circumstances, like with exercise or when it is hot outside,” says Dr. Dyer. “Sweating helps us cool off in these situations. It becomes hyperhidrosis when there is an increase in perspiration beyond what a person needs for regulating body temperature.”

He says sweaty hands may make it difficult to hold a pencil or cause you embarrassment when shaking hands with someone. You may notice that sweat drips from your hands or that they sweat more than other parts of your body.

These are all signs of hyperhidrosis, which affects men and women equally.

Why do we sweat?

“For normal sweat gland function, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus senses when we are overheated (or possibly threatened) and sends a signal via nerves to our sweat glands,” says Dr. Dyer. “The nerve endings release a chemical messenger called acetylcholine, which tells sweat glands to produce sweat.”

What causes excessively sweaty hands? 

There are two main categories of hyperhidrosis, he says:

  • Primary hyperhidrosis, which is not due to any underlying cause

  • Secondary hyperhidrosis, which is due to an underlying cause, such as a tumor, endocrine problems or substances like caffeine, among others

“Thankfully, primary hyperhidrosis is most common when we are talking about the palms,” says Dr. Dyer. “Most often, we cannot say what causes excessively sweaty palms.”

Treatment options for sweaty hands

Dr. Dyer recommends several approaches for managing hyperhidrosis:

  • Antiperspirant. “Many people are not really aware there is a difference between antiperspirants and deodorants,” he says. While typically applied to the armpits, antiperspirant can be applied to the palms to temporarily help control sweating. Your doctor may prescribe a prescription antiperspirant if over-the-counter versions don’t work for you.

  • Iontophoresis. “This is a procedure where you immerse your hands in tap water under a direct current to temporarily block sweat ducts,” he explains. “This is usually performed at home.”

  • Botox injections. “For palms and armpits, botulinum toxin (Botox, Dysport) may be injected in-office, but this is limited by pain and cost,” he says.

  • Surgery. Because surgery can be risky, it is often considered a last resort for treating hyperhidrosis.

When to see a doctor about sweaty hands

“I encourage you to talk to your physician about sweaty palms if it interferes with your day-to-day activities or negatively impacts your quality of life,” he says.

Talk to your primary care provider if you are concerned about excessive sweating.

“Primary care providers are a good source of information on hyperhidrosis,” says Dr. Dyer. “If you want a detailed discussion on treatment options or if there is concern that the excessive sweating may be due to some underlying health condition, then dermatologists are happy to work alongside the primary care provider in managing treatment.”

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