There are certain situations where sweaty hands and feet are kind of expected, like when you’re nervous before a job interview or you’re perspiring from head to toe after a particularly grueling SoulCycle class. But if your hands and feet are so sweaty that they’re practically drenched or you avoid leather shoes for fear of slippage, then you might have hyperhidrosis.
Don’t get us wrong—sweating is a good thing. It’s your body’s way of cooling itself to prevent you from overheating. This is called thermoregulation, which is how the nervous system tries to keep your core body temperature at around 98.6 degrees, according to the Mayo Clinic. But with hyperhidrosis, your sweat glands get the message from your nervous system to go into overdrive. “The sweat glands themselves are normal, but they’re hyperactive,” Joyce Fox, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California and a Cedars-Sinai medical group dermatologist, tells SELF. “It’s an exaggerated response to normal emotional stress.”
The name hyperhidrosis may be new to you, but if you have it, you know something’s up. People who suffer from hyperhidrosis sweat a lot. “In some people, it may be as high as four to five times the normal level of sweat,” Marlyanne Pol-Rodriguez, M.D., a dermatologist and hyperhidrosis expert at Stanford Health Care, tells SELF, adding that millions of people have this condition. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that 3 percent of the United States’ population sweats excessively.
What’s the difference between having sweaty hands and feet versus hyperhidrosis?
One of the main differences involves what causes the sweating. Under most circumstances, factors like emotional distress, heat, and exercise can lead to regular sweating, but the excessive perspiration that comes with hyperhidrosis can just happen without any triggers, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are actually two types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary. Primary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that can’t be chalked up to anything else, such as another health condition or a medication. While the exact cause of primary hyperhidrosis is unknown, there is recent research that suggests the cause could be genetic, at least in part, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
Here are the signs of primary hyperhidrosis, per the AAD:
You sweat in just a few areas of the body, like your forehead, underarms, or palms of your hands and soles of your feet (this is known as palmoplantar hypherhidrosis).
You sweat on both sides of your body.
You don’t typically sweat excessively while sleeping.
You experience an episode of excessive sweating at least once a week.
You first experienced this level of sweating in childhood or adolescence.
Profuse sweating may also be secondary hyperhidrosis. Secondary hyperhidrosis causes include medical conditions such as diabetes or menopause. It can also be a side effect of a medication you’re taking.
Here are the symptoms of secondary hyperhidrosis, according to the AAD:
You sweat over larger areas of your body, or sometimes even all over.
You sweat a lot while you sleep.
You first experienced this level of sweating in adulthood.
Excessive sweating can have physical and mental effects.
“Hyperhidrosis can have serious social, emotional, and even professional consequences, such as if you’re shaking hands at work and your hands are sweating or you’re staining your clothes,” says Dr. Fox. “It can make people self-conscious and more nervous.” Adds Dr. Pol-Rodriguez: “Patients who suffer from hyperhidrosis may experience psychological troubles including depression, social isolation, and decreased confidence.”