I wear socks during yoga, I don’t get manicures, and I’ll never know the joy of wearing a pair of super sexy strappy sandals.
I have hyperhidrosis. It’s my sweaty little secret. Or not so secret if you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of shaking my hand during an episode.
Per the International Hyperhidrosis Society, hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that occurs when “the sweat glands (eccrine glands in particular) overreact to stimuli or are just generally overactive, producing more sweat than is necessary.” Almost five percent of the world’s population is affected.
Hyperhidrosis can occur in the hands and feet, face and head, underarms, and all over the body. I’m mostly a hands and feet girl, but it does occur all over at times. Like when I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding and I sat down in my velvet dress only to stand up with a crushed velvet imprint around my perspiring posterior.
Fortunately, I’m not in a constant state of sweatiness, but it does occur daily — sometimes it’s just a brief misting, other times it’s a full-on outbreak. My triggers range from going barefoot to sitting for long periods of time to… just because.
I once went to a foot spa against my better judgment with my mother and sister because I thought my feet would be submerged in water the whole time. To my chagrin, they weren’t.
When my feet left the water, I broke into a sweat. Instead of telling the unfortunate soul who got me as a client not to touch me below my ankles, I chose the silent humiliation of him finding out my clammy issue on his own. I’m convinced he got his revenge when he moved on to the upper body portion of the session by giving me the most aggressive and uncomfortable massage of my life.
I still tipped the poor guy extra though.
Aside from laughing about that experience with my family, and occasionally having to explain to a fitness instructor that I prefer to keep my socks on (like when I unsuccessfully tried aerial silks), I have never really talked to anyone about my condition. Let alone someone else who has it.
The first time I felt comfortable admitting it out loud was this past January when I visited licensed acupuncturist and board certified herbalist Joseph Alban in New York City. After four decades of suffering from hyperhidrosis, I finally decided to take some real action. Since it is a condition he specifically treats, I felt safe enough to open up sans embarrassment.
The acupuncture didn’t work on me, but the Chinese herbal treatment Alban prescribed, though not a cure-all, did.
After drinking the herbs in my hot tea, I was able to sit on the couch for hours, binge watching a show or mindlessly surfing the net without stewing in my own juices — gross, I know. Then, when I eventually drove home from NYC to Chicago, each leg of my road trip delivered me to my destination in dryness instead of damp jeans.
Alban’s approach to treating the issue — which is different for every person and type of hyperhidrosis — involves calming down the nervous system and ridding the body of excessive heat. This can include acupuncture, cupping, and herbal formulas.
“We look at the body in terms of what are the imbalances underlying a situation,” he explained. “There might be too much heat, but it’s a possibility you have too little cooling that leads to the heat … and the treatment is customized based on that. There are base points to help stop your sweating, to help calm down the nervous system and the other points may be customized for that individual.”
As there is no standard in Chinese medicine for conditions like hyperhidrosis, Alban does not suggest over the counter herbs. To find someone to prescribe such a treatment, he advises calling an herbal or Chinese medicine specialist to make sure they have experience in the condition and to find out what their approach is, what therapies they might include, and what successes they’ve had in the past.
Alban also recommends experimenting with diet modifications to see if, for example, spicy, greasy or fatty foods could be the cause of sweating. Meditation and mindfulness practices are also a “powerful way you can talk back to your body to get the nervous system to calm down.”
Another great preventative measure I’ve found is Carpe lotion. I was leery that a simple topical cream would have an effect, but it dried out my hands and feet upon first use.
The lotion was a recommendation from the author of the blog My Life as a Puddle. I found fellow sufferer Maria Thomas after my experience with Alban, when I decided to do more research. Considering I have spent my life trying to hide my condition, I was drawn to her outspokenness about it.
Thomas decided to start her blog after attending a symposium on Botox treatment for hyperhidrosis. For the first time, she felt validated and didn’t feel the need to apologize for her condition when the doctors didn’t recoil at her touch.
That experience inspired her to share her story to help ease the stigma surrounding the affliction and encourage others to speak up about it.
“It lets me tell my truth … and not feel bad about the way I was created,” she said of My Life as a Puddle. “It also lets other people know that they are not alone. When people find out, ‘Oh you have that too?’ They don’t feel like such a freak about themselves anymore.”
She encourages people to seek out treatment, use the International Hyperhidrosis Society as a source of information, and to accept that it’s not their fault they have hyperhidrosis.
“We all have something we have to deal with, and this might just be what you’re dealing with,” she pointed out. “But it doesn’t make you less of a person and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
At 46 that’s something I’m getting better at accepting, but still trying to overcome. While I may never attend a yoga class in bare feet, with the various treatment options and bloggers like Thomas out there, ridding myself of the shame seems like a less daunting goal to tackle.