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Our body comprises of more than three million sweat glands that secrete a clear fluid (sweat) to help control the body’s internal temperature by cooling the surface of the skin. These sweat glands are located in the inner layer of the skin (i.e. the dermal layer) and are stimulated by nerve endings that respond to chemical messages from the brain. Most of the sweat glands are located in the soles of the feet, on the palms, inside the armpits, under the breast and between the legs.

What causes Sweating or Perspiration?

There are several factors that trigger the production of sweat from the sweat glands and result in perspiration. In general perspiration occurs in response to physical activity or increase in the outside temperature. However, there are some other factors:

• Perspiration occurs in response to stress, anxiety, apprehension or mental tension. During stress, various hormones are secreted by the body which causes perspiration.
• Some medical conditions, which are a consequence of hormonal imbalances also result in excessive sweating. These conditions include diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders or menopause.
• A rare condition referred to as heredity hyperhidrosis, which runs in families is also the cause for excessive sweating.

Hormones, Neurotransmitters and Sweating: The mechanism

The sweat glands are supplied by two kinds of nerves, the sympathetic nerves (which increase sweating) and the parasympathetic nerves (which reduce sweating). These nerve endings stimulate the sweat gland, depending upon the production of various chemical hormones and neurotransmitters. During stress, anxiety, fear, anger, etc, the sympathetic nervous system gets stimulated. This results in the increased production of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter), which increases the production of the sweat from the glands.

In conditions like thyroid disorder (i.e. excessive secretion of thyroid hormone) or diabetes mellitus (i.e. reduced production or decrease in sensitivity to the hormone insulin), excessive perspiration is observed. In hyperthyroidism, this is attributed to the increase in the basal metabolic rate, which increases the internal temperature of the body and excessive perspiration takes place to bring down the internal temperature.

Normally perspiration is associated with increase in body temperature, which can be due to infection, physical activity or any other cause. However, fall in the production of sex hormones, is associated with excessive sweating, without the rise in body temperature. During menopause in women, the levels of the hormone estrogen drops drastically, which in turn results in symptoms like night sweat, hot flushes, etc, which are associated with excessive perspiration. Similarly the production of testosterone may fall in males suffering from prostate cancer, which in turn is manifested in the same format.

Managing Sweating: The simple solutions

Excessive sweating can be distressing. Here are a few tips to reduce excessive sweating and to help control the odor associated with sweating,

• Use antiperspirants that contain aluminum chloride that blocks the pores and reduces the release of sweat.
• Avoid drinking lots of water prior to going out or starting to office from home. Instead drink water early in the morning on getting up. This will reduce the possibility of sweating during the day. It is however important to drink a minimum of three liters of water each day.
• Meditation and relaxing techniques will help control the various stress triggering hormones to induce sweating. Alternatively, one could use Inderal, which is a beta-blocker and works towards reducing blood pressure, prior to any stage performance or public speaking.
• Botox injections help to temporarily freeze the nerve endings that stimulate the production of sweat. A treatment of six to nine months may be needed.