Sweating is a normal function of the body that helps us to cool down in the heat and during exercise, signal our emotions, signify hormonal changes and help fight infections. All people past the age of puberty experience armpit or axillary sweating and the body odour that accompanies sweating from this part of the body.1
For some people sweating and body odour can become a problem especially if it occurs excessively or abnormally. Excessive sweat can be noticeable on clothes, cause discomfort or skin irritation, cause embarrassment in public or social situations and have a big impact on daily life both practically and emotionally.2
Body odour (B.O.)1
Body odour begins at puberty when the apocrine sweat glands start working. Naturally occurring bacteria feed on sweat secretions from the apocrine gland and release waste products that give rise to body odour. Body odour is therefore a normal occurrence when we sweat during or after exercise or when we feel strong emotions. The underarm area can be particularly smelly as the warm, damp conditions are ideal for bacteria to thrive and sweat tends to evaporate less from the armpits.
People who sweat excessively (hyperhidrosis) may also experience excessive body odour due to the extra sweat that is produced. Body odour can also be influenced by the food you eat; some people find that strong smelling foods such as garlic or curry can make their sweat smell.
Normal body odour can be relieved by routine bathing or showering and the use of antiperspirants and deodorants which work by masking the smell of body odour and reducing sweat and the bacteria that cause bad smells.
excessive-sweatingExcessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, is a medical condition that causes a person to sweat without the normal triggers of heat, exercise or emotional signals. People with hyperhidrosis can sweat even when the temperature is cool or when they are at rest.3
Hyperhidrosis is thought to occur as a result of overactive sweat glands which can produce up to four to five times more sweat than is normally required on the hands, feet and armpits. Some people may experience excessive sweating all over their body as a result of medical conditions or medications – this is called secondary hyperhidrosis.3
The exact cause of hyperhidrosis is unknown. It affects approximately 3% of the population and can have a big impact on a person’s life, affecting everything from working life, relationships, social life and self-image.4
If you think you may have hyperhidrosis your local pharmacist will be able to advise on the best high efficacy products available in the market without a prescription. If your sweating is particularly severe then it is important to speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional.1 Your doctor can investigate your sweating further and talk to you about some of the ways to manage the excessive sweating.
Hot flusheshot-flushesHot flushes
Hot flushes (also known as ‘hot flashes’) can occur just before and during the menopause whilst a number of hormonal changes happen in the body. These hormonal changes affect the way the body regulates its temperature, and as a result, menopause often causes problems with sweating. Hot flushes can also be accompanied with night sweats, heat intolerance, chills and palpitations, which can all have a significant impact on everyday life.5
What happens during a hot flush? A hot flush is an unpleasant sensation of sudden heat in the top half of the body often followed by profuse sweating, which can last from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Some women find they have to carry extra clothes with them during the day to change into, whilst night sweats can be so severe that they drench bedclothes and sheets and disturb sleep.6 Hot flushes are very common during the menopause. Research has shown that up to 70% of menopausal women experience hot flushes and they can continue for two to five years during the menopausal period.6Dealing with hot flushes
Hot flushes, as experienced during the menopause, can affect quality of life. In fact, hot flushes are one of the biggest problems women experience during the menopause.
If you experience hot flushes or excessive sweating during the menopause, some simple things may help to ease the discomfort and embarrassment caused by these symptoms.7
- Avoid wearing tight fitting clothes and synthetic fibres such as nylon or polyester, especially under the armpit. Natural fibres such as cotton are more ‘breathable’ and help sweat to evaporate. Likewise, a cotton bra is better at absorbing sweat than a nylon one.
- Use antiperspirants daily as they help to reduce sweating
- Alcohol and spicy food can be a trigger for sweating so try to avoid or minimize these
- Keep your bedroom cool to help ease night sweats. A light-weight duvet or light cotton sheets can be helpful
- Research has shown that regular exercise and reducing or stopping smoking can be beneficial for menopausal women and may reduce hot flushes.8
During night sweats, people experience intense sweating that can soak their bed clothes and bed sheets.1 Night sweats are a normal part of the menopause and also occur during times of illness or fever. During a fever the body temperature rises as the body works to fight the infection. Sweating occurs towards the end of a fever and helps to cool the body back down again.9
Night sweats may also occur simply if the bedroom is too hot or if there are too many blankets on the bed, or as a side effect of some medications. If night sweats occur on a regular basis and you are not menopausal, or if you also have a prolonged fever, it is important that you to speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional.10Foot odour
The soles of the feet contain an abundance of sweat glands, which can cause problems of sweaty feet and foot odour. Shoes and socks can contribute to this problem as they prevent excess sweat from evaporating, leaving bacteria to feed on the sweat, causing malodour. The medical term for foot odour is bromodosis. Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), synthetic footwear and poor hygiene can all contribute to bromodosis.11References
- Unilever. Facts about Sweating
- International Hyperhidrosis Society. The Effects on Patients' Lives: Social Embarrassment and Psychological Effects. http://www.sweathelp.org/english/HCP_Hyperhidrosis_Effects_Social_Embarrass.asp (Last accessed 15.12.12)
- Medline. Hyperhidrosis.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007259.htm (Last accessed 15.12.12)
- International Hyperhidrosis Society. Definition of hyperhidrosis http://www.sweathelp.org/English/PFF_Hyperhidrosis_Definition.asp (Last accessed 15.12.12)
- Backstrom, T. (1995) Symptoms related to the menopause and sex steroid treatments. In: Non-reproductive actions of sex steroids. (Ciba Foundation Symposium 191), pp. 171-186, Wiley, Chichester
- Kronenberg, F. (1994) Hot flashes: Phenomenology, quality of life, and search for treatment options. Expt. Gerontol., 29, 319-336
- Embarrassing Problems. Flushing at the menopause http://www.embarrassingproblems.com/problem/blushing-flushing/flushing-menopause (Last accessed 15.12.12)
- Whiteman, Maura K. PhD; Staropoli et al.Smoking, Body Mass, and Hot Flashes in Midlife Women,Obstetrics and Gynecology 2003;101:264 –72
- National Cancer Institute. Fever Sweats and Hot Flashes http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/fever/Patient/page2 (last accessed 15.12.12)
- Mayo Clinic. Night sweats http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/night-sweats/MY00576/METHOD=print (Last accessed 15.12.12)
- NHS Choices. Bromodosis (smelly feet) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/bromodosissmelly-feet/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Last accessed 15.12.12)