Sweating or perspiration is a normal bodily process. All mammals including humans have sweat glands in the skin that secrete a liquid called sweat. Sweat is mostly water along with trace amounts of electrolytes and minerals like sodium and potassium. In humans, sweating is primarily meant for thermoregulation. However, some people experience excessive sweating.
Excessive sweating can happen due to a wide variety of reasons. Sweating is considered excessive when it goes beyond fulfilling its purpose of physiological thermoregulation.
This condition is known as hyperhidrosis and may also hinder one’s daily activities.
Types of Hyperhidrosis
Primary Hyperhidrosis: Whenever excessive sweating occurs without any known medical cause it is called primary hyperhidrosis. It is also known as idiopathic primary hyperhidrosis. Idiopathic means a condition for which the cause is unknown.
Primary hyperhidrosis is usually linked to genetic or hereditary causes. In primary hyperhidrosis, the nerves that trigger the sweat glands become overly active.
This leads to excessive sweating even when thermoregulation isn’t required. Excessive sweating in this type of hyperhidrosis is localized to body parts like palms, soles of feet, and underarms in primary hyperhidrosis. This kind of excessive sweating is also called focal hyperhidrosis.
Secondary Hyperhidrosis: Whenever excessive sweating is caused by an underlying health condition, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. It is also called diaphoresis when associated with serious health conditions.
Secondary hyperhidrosis can affect all age groups. Excessive sweating at night or nocturnal hyperhidrosis is also a common type of secondary hyperhidrosis.
Here are some of the possible causes of secondary hyperhidrosis.
- Pineal or thyroid gland disorders.
- Diabetes mellitus.
- Certain medications or drugs
- Fever, anxiety, tuberculosis, tumors, cardiac ailments, and other more serious conditions like AIDS.
Excessive Sweating Causes: Diagnosing Hyperhidrosis
One should always consult their physician for a complete clinical examination before starting any kind of treatment for excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis.
A doctor can rule out underlying conditions if any. A doctor usually analyses patterns, localization, frequency, and timings of the sweating.
On the basis of the patient’s history, clinical examinations, and investigations if any, the doctor can make a possible diagnosis. After the diagnosis, he or she can advise an appropriate treatment or management plan for excessive sweating.
Allopathic Treatments For Hyperhidrosis
While a wide variety of options exist for managing excessive sweating, treating the underlying health condition in the case of secondary hyperhidrosis is also necessary. Here are some of the options available in western medicine for managing excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis.
Topical agents: These include antiperspirants, anticholinergic agents, and formaldehyde lotions. Antiperspirants are available in sprays, lotions, and roll-ons.
Formaldehyde lotions and topical anticholinergic agents reduce sweating by occluding the pores of the skin. These, however, are short-acting. Formaldehyde lotions also have side-effects thus limiting their use.
Iontophoresis: This medical procedure uses low-level electrical impulses to temporarily disable the sweat glands under the skin. It is a painless procedure that takes around 20-30 minutes to perform.
Botox injections (Botulinum toxin): Botox injections can be used for blocking the nerves that trigger the sweat glands.
The effects of Botox injections usually last for three to nine months. However, most people usually require multiple injections to see effective results.
Botox injections are an approved treatment for excessive underarm sweating or axillary hyperhidrosis.
Medications: Oral anticholinergic drugs are commonly used for managing excessive sweating. These drugs inhibit the transmission of parasympathetic nerve impulses that trigger the sweat glands.
In general, people using anticholinergics see improvements within a few weeks. Some of the anticholinergics used for treating hyperhidrosis are propantheline, methantheline, glycopyrrolate, and oxybutynin.
These medications, however, have side effects like dry mouth, constipation, and more. Hence they should be only used when prescribed by the physician.
Surgery: Surgery is also an option for treating excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis. Surgical procedures like laser sweat ablation, sweat gland suction, and retrodermal curettage are available.
A procedure called ETS (Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy) is also available. In ETS, the sweat-gland triggering nerves are surgically removed.
This procedure is usually recommended for severe cases where the patient does not respond to the usual treatments.
Sweating in Ayurveda
Sweating is called sweda in Ayurveda. Sweda vaha srotas are the minuscule channels that carry sweat from the sweat glands to the pores. In Ayurveda, sweda is considered a mala (excreta) of the medo dhatu (fat tissue).
It is formed when fat is metabolized in the body.1 Ayurvedic texts mention sweda or sweat as a slightly saline fluid that is excreted from the skin. It is called pasina in Hindi.
Sweda is one of the three sthula malas. Sthula means fat and mala means excreta. Sthula mala are the three main excretory products of the body namely purisha (stool), mutra (urine), and sweda (sweat).2 They are formed during digestion.
Sweda is one of the three sthula malas
According to Ayurvedic texts, the main function of sweda or sweating is to keep the skin pores moist and keep the skin soft.3 Thus, sweda or sweating is also considered a normal and necessary bodily function in the Ayurvedic system of medicine.
In Ayurveda, amashya (stomach), sweda (sweat), rasa (plasma), lasika (lymph), rudhira (blood), and the area between pakwashya (large intestine) and amashya (stomach) are considered the chief sites of Pitta dosha.4
Excessive Sweating: Sweda Adhikya or Ati Sweda
Excessive sweating is considered abnormal in Ayurveda as well. It is called sweda adhikya or ati sweda in Ayurvedic texts. Here, sweda means sweat and adhikya or ati means excessive. Ayurveda associates excessive sweating with other symptoms like itching and foul body odor.2
While sweda adhikhya or excessive sweating is not mentioned as an independent disease in Ayurveda, it has been mentioned in bits and parts at various places in different Ayurvedic texts.
Ayurveda lists a few conditions that can cause excessive sweating. Here are some of them.
Excessive Sweating Causes According To Ayurveda
Excessive sweating can be caused by the contamination of sweda vaha srotas. Sweda vaha srotas are the channels responsible for carrying sweat to the pores.
Some of the possible causes of contamination include excessive physical exercise, prolonged exposure to heat or sunlight, unhealthy eating habits, or even experiencing strong emotions like anger or fear.
Excessive sweating is linked to the contamination of swedo vaha srotas
The contamination of swedo vaha srotas leads to symptoms like excessive sweating, excessively moist skin, burning sensation, or no sweating.5
Ayurveda also mentions medo adhikya (excess of fat) as a cause of excessive sweating. In the classical Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita, excessive sweating is correlated with being overweight or obese.
The text mentions a wide variety of problems that occur when medo dhatu (fat tissue) increases and goes beyond the normal amounts for the body.
Excessive sweating or sweda adhikya has been mentioned as one of the main problems that come with being overweight or obese.6
Ayurveda also associates excessive sweating with an aggravated Pitta dosha. With sweat or sweda being one of the chief sites of Pitta expression of the body, an aggravated Pitta naturally causes excessive sweating.
An aggravated Pitta naturally causes excessive sweating
In the 20th chapter of Charak Samhita, sutra sthana, there is a list of forty conditions which are called nanatmaja pitta roga, conditions associated with an aggravated Pitta)
Nanatmaja roga means diseases caused by the vitiation of only one individual dosha.
Two symptoms namely osha (heat) and ati sweda (excessive sweat) have been mentioned under nanatmaja pitta roga.7
Other than the causes mentioned above, Ayurvedic texts also mention other less-common conditions wherein excessive sweating is a symptom.
The Ayurvedic system of medicine believes in curing the root cause of diseases. It does not suggest symptomatic treatment of conditions like western medicine.
This approach to medicine is called nidan parivarjanam. Nidan means root cause and parivarjanam means avoidance.
Therefore, in Ayurveda, managing excessive sweating depends on its root cause. In the case of being overweight or obese, managing one’s weight is the preferred treatment route for managing excessive sweating as well.
If the excessive sweating is due to an aggravated Pitta dosha, then pacifying the aggravated Pitta also treats the excessive sweating.
Similarly, in excessive sweating caused by problems with the sweda vaha srotas, the sweda vaha srotas are treated to solve the associated excessive sweating.
Sweating Associated With Aggravated Pitta Dosha
The classical Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita mentions the following ways to pacify an aggravated Pitta Dosha.8
- Internal oleation therapy by consuming ghrita (clarified butter).
- Virechana (purgation therapy) to be performed only under the guidance of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.
- Consuming aahar dravya (food items) and aushadh dravya (Ayurvedic formulations and herbs) with madhur (sweet), tikta (bitter) and kashaya (astringent) tastes.
- Using scents and perfumes which have a mild and sweet fragrance.
- Wearing cooling necklaces or garlands up to the chest. These necklaces or garlands are made of pearls or other jewels and kept in ice or cold water before wearing.
- Applying Ayurvedic pastes topically. These pastes are made from cooling herbs like malay chandan (sandalwood), priyangu (beauty berry), peet chandan (yellow variety of sandalwood) and kamal naal (stalk of lotus).
- Sprinkling lotus water on the body. Using water with different varieties of lotus flowers like neel kamal (blue lotus), rakta kamal (red variety of lotus), sugandhit kamal (fragrant variety of lotus), padma (Nelumbo nucifera).
- Listening to mild, melodious, and sweet music to keep Pitta emotions like anger, frustration, and passion in check.
- Listening to talks which influence you towards prosperity, a natural tendency for healthy Pitta dosha
- Living somewhere with ample exposure to moonlight and fresh air.
- Living near river banks or in colder climates.
- Spending time in nature during cool and breezy weather.
- Surrounding oneself with cooling flowers like neel kamal (blue variety of lotus), sugandhit kamal (fragrant variety of lotus), padma (Nelumbo nucifera), pundarika (Nymphaea lotus) and rose.
- Other activities and diets that pacify an aggravated Pitta dosha.
Sweating Associated With Excessive Weight
Charak Samhita’s chapter Ashto nindtiya adhyaya describes the following ways of losing weight associated with excessive meda dhatu (fat tissue)9
- Consuming foods and drinks which reduce fat deposits and pacify Vata and Kapha doshas.
- Undergoing Ayurvedic enemas for weight management under the guidance and supervision of qualified Ayurvedic practitioners.
- Dry powder massage or rooksha udvartana is also advised for weight management
- Using herbs like like guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), haritaki (Terminalia chebula), amalaki (Emblica officinalis) and bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica).
- Physical exercise.
Sweating Associated With Problems in Sweda Vaha Srotas
The contamination of the body’s sweda vaha srotas and the resultant excessive sweating have the same treatment approach like that of jwara roga. Jwara roga is correlated with fever.5
In the renowned Ayurvedic text Dravyaguna Vijnana (Ayurvedic Herbology), an herb named usheera (Vetiveria zizanioides) is mentioned.
This herb is helpful in managing excessive sweating and pacifies an aggravated Pitta dosha. Its paste is helpful in relieving excessive sweating, burning sensation, and foul body odor caused by excessive sweating.10
Coriander or cilantro is a very common herb which is extensively used for cooking. It has certain qualities that bring all the doshas into equilibrium.
A cold infusion of coriander is extremely helpful in excessive sweating. Here’s the recipe.
- Take dry coriander and grind it with a little bit of water in a blender.
- Then add some water to the ground coriander paste and let it sit for one to two hours.
- Add some sugar or honey and drink slowly.11
Diabetic people or people having high blood sugar level should avoid using sugar or honey for the preparation.
Excessive Sweating Prevention
Follow these daily suggestions to prevent excessive sweating.
- Shower at least twice a day
- Wear comfortable and loose-fitted clothes. Avoid clothes made from synthetic fibers. Wear socks made from natural fibers.
- Avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Avoid consuming hot, spicy, and fermented foods
- Avoid drinking tea, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks excessively.
- Try using armpit shields. Armpit shields are pads worn on armpits to protect clothes from sweat stains
- Use foot powder. You can also add a small amount of foot powder to your shoes to soak excessive foot sweat.
- Stay cool and hydrated throughout the day.
- Consume a Pitta pacifying diet.
The remedies and measures mentioned in this article are suggestions only. Please consult your general physician or qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before trying them.
- Textbook of Kayachikitsa, part-1, p.no.36, by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2016.
- Textbook of Kayachikitsa, part-1, p.no.48, by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2016.
- Sharangdhara Samhita with Hindi commentary, purva khanda, panchma adhyaya, verse no. 33, p.no. 58, by Dr. Brahmanand Tripathi, Chaukhamba Surbharti Prakashan, Varanasi, 2010.
- Textbook of Kayachikitsa, part-1, p.no.22, by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2016.
- Textbook of Kayachikitsa, part-1, p.no.74,75, by Prof. Ajay Kumar Sharma, Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2016.
- Charak Samhita,part-1, Sutra Sathan, 21/4, p.no.300, by Aacharya Vidyadhar Shukla and Professor Ravidutt Tripathi, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2017.
- Charak Samhita, part-1, Sutra Sathan, 20/14, p.no.295, by Aacharya Vidyadhar Shukla and Professor Ravidutt Tripathi, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2017.
- Charak Samhita, Viman Sathan, 6/17, p.no. 601, by Aacharya Vidyadhar Shukla and Professor Ravidutt Tripathi, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2017.
- Charak Samhita,part-1, Sutra Sathan, 21/21,22,28, p.no.303,304, by Aacharya Vidyadhar Shukla and Professor Ravidutt Tripathi, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2017.
- Dravyaguna Vijnana by Aacharya Priyavrat Sharma, Volume 2, page no. 114-116, Chaukhamba Bharati Academy, 2017.
- Adarsh Nighantu, volume 1, page no. 698 by Shri Bapalal Vaidya, Chaukhamba Bharati Academy, 2013.