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What Is Sweat? - Types and Treatments

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Do you know that you sweat even when you think you are not sweating? There is a lot more about sweat you probably may not know. Read this article to understand more about sweat.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sofia

Published At April 1, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 14, 2022

Introduction:

In humans, sweating is a form of thermoregulation. It allows the body to regulate its temperature. Humans have around 2 million to 4 million sweat glands. But how much each gland secretes depends on innumerable factors such as sex, genetics, environment, individual's fitness, age, and weight. Sweating is typically normal when the climate is too hot or when you exercise or are scared. But few people sweat a lot or may drip sweat even when it is not too hot or when they are not even exercising. It can be indicative of any underlying medical conditions.

What Is Sweat?

When the body overheats, the part of the brain that regulates temperature called the hypothalamus sends a message to start sweating to control the body temperature. Sweat helps regulate the body temperature. Sweat is a clear, salty liquid produced by the glands in the skin. It is mainly composed of water with minimal amounts of other chemicals such as ammonia, urea, sugar, and other salts. This sweat leaves the skin through pores, and when this sweat hits the air, it evaporates. When the sweat evaporates, the body cools down. Hence it is a great cooling system. Sweating is otherwise known as perspiration.

What Are the Types of Sweat Glands?

Sweat glands occur all over the body, with the most number on the forehead, armpits, palms, and soles of the feet. There are 2 million to 4 million sweat glands present in the human body. The two primary types of sweat glands are:

  • Eccrine glands.

  • Apocrine glands.

Eccrine Glands:

Sweat is produced due to excessive body temperature. The eccrine sweat glands are almost present all over the body and are responsible for the secretion of watery brackish sweat. Through these eccrine sweat glands mostly cover the entire body, they are mainly concentrated in the following regions:

  • Palms.

  • Soles.

  • Forehead.

  • Armpits.

The sweat released by these eccrine glands does not taste like water because it has small amounts of salt, protein, urea, and ammonia.

Apocrine Glands:

Apocrine sweat glands are larger sweat glands present in the scalp's hair follicles, armpits, groin, and breast area. These sweat glands secrete a heavier, fat-laden sweat which has a different odor.Types of sweat glands

Why Do I Sweat?

Various factors trigger the sweat glands to produce sweat. The major reasons are heat and humidity. When the body temperature rises, sweating is the natural way to keep your body cool. The sweat evaporates from the skin, taking the heat along with it and the rest runs down the body and face. When the weather is humid, one feels hotter because wet air does not allow the sweat to evaporate off quickly.

Apart from cooling down the body, there are multiple reasons for our body to start sweating.

1) Exercise: When you exercise, your body gets heated up. There are two reasons for it. First, you require energy for contracting the muscles, but not all of the energy is used to pull the muscle as some of it escapes as heat. The second reason is that heat is generated by chemical reactions, including aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Through these mechanisms, our bodies get heated up when we exercise, and then sweating comes to the rescue by cooling down the bodies and keeping us going.

2) Stress or Anxiety: Stress can trigger the fight or flight response making your skin moist. It is because the body sends a signal to the sweat glands to start working.

3) Drinking Coffee: Coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant. This caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by triggering the release of adrenaline. It can also bring on that fight or flight response.

4) Eating Spicy Foods: Spicy foods contain the chemical capsaicin, which tricks the brain, making it think that the body temperature is increasing. This, in turn, triggers the production of sweat.

5) Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol cannot be processed by the kidneys and gets accumulated in the bloodstream resulting in enlargement of the blood vessels near the surface of the skin leading to sweating.

6) Menopause and Hot Flashes: Sweating is a natural response to hot flashes around the menopausal period. About 80 % of menopausal women experience sweating.

7) Smoking: When one smokes, the nicotine releases acetylcholine, a chemical responsible for the sweaty episodes. Besides, smoking also raises body temperature contributing to sweating.

8) Side Effects of Certain Medications: Certain medications designed to improve your health can also make you sweat. Some of which are:

  • Antidepressants.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • Medicines taken to control blood pressure.

  • Certain anticancer drugs.

  • Antidiabetic drugs.

NOTE: If you notice your skin getting extra damp after starting a new medication, then talk to your doctor to consider giving alternative drugs.

Why Does Sweat Smell Bad?

Sweat by itself does not have an odor, but when the bacteria that live on the skin mix with these secretions, it can produce a distinct odor. This is because the bacteria break down the sweat into scented fatty acids giving the sweat a foul-smelling odor.

Is Sweating Normal?

Sweating is considered normal or healthy when it is caused due to the following conditions:

  • Hot temperatures.

  • Exercise.

  • Emotions or stress.

  • After eating spicy or hot foods.

  • Fever or any associated illness.

When Is It Referred to as Increased Sweating or Decreased Sweating?

Increased or excessive sweating is known as hyperhidrosis. Among all, idiopathic hyperhidrosis is the most common type. It is called so as no underlying cause can be found for it. Excessive sweating can affect the whole body or specific areas like palms, soles, underarms, and face, particularly the hands and feet. The health conditions that can cause excessive sweating are:

  • Diabetes.

  • Obesity.

  • Acromegaly.

  • Hyperthyroidism.

  • Neurological diseases.

  • Hormonal changes like menopause.

Decreased sweating is referred to as hypohidrosis, and when there is a complete lack of sweating, it is known as anhidrosis. This condition can be life-threatening, and it can occur for several reasons. Some of which include:

  • Dehydration.

  • Certain skin disorders.

  • Burns on the skin can damage the sweat glands.

  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid.

What Can I Do to Control Sweating?

An average level of sweating usually does not require any treatment. But here are a few remedies you can follow to manage sweating and keep yourself comfortable:

  • Wear light layers of clothing that allow the skin to breathe.

  • Change your sweat clothes to reduce the risk of any bacterial or yeast infections.

  • Drink plenty of water or any sports drinks to replace the fluid loss or electrolytes lost through sweating.

  • Avoid foods that aggravate sweating, such as spicy foods, caffeine, or alcohol.

  • You can apply underarm antiperspirant or deodorant to control the odor.

  • If any medications are causing sweating, then talk to your doctor about any alternative medications.

When Do You Have to Seek Immediate Medical Help?

Sweating can be an alarming sign of an underlying medical illness or condition. You have to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms along with sweating:

  • Chest pain.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Dizziness.

  • Continuous excessive perspiration without any reason, such as hot temperature or exercise.

Are There Any Treatments Available to Control Sweating?

When sweating is caused due to a medical illness, then addressing the cause and treating it will help improve the condition. But if there is no apparent cause, then the following treatments may be recommended,

Antiperspirants: If sweating cannot be controlled with antiperspirants, try various other options such as:

  • Botox Injections - Botox injections temporarily block the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands.

  • Iontophoresis - This process is performed by passing mild electrical currents to the hands and feet to block the sweat glands.

Conclusion:

Sweating is a normal physiological process. Sweating too much or too little can always be a problem. Try making some lifestyle modifications to make yourself comfortable and manage sweating. But when sweating is associated with other symptoms, it can be an alarming sign of an underlying medical condition. In that case, you may have to seek immediate medical attention.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Is Sweating Treated?

Sweating to greater degrees is considered unhealthy and requires medical attention. The classical means of treatment include antiperspirants prescribed on a daily basis. The other treatment for excessive sweating includes the following.
- Iontophoresis.
- Prescription cloth wipes.
- Botulinum toxin injections.

2.

What Are the Types of Sweating?

The human body consists of millions of sweat glands that produce sweat in everyday life. The two sweat glands are considered the primary and significant. They include.
- Eccrine sweat glands. These glands cover almost all body parts, secreting a weightless and odorless sweat. 
- Apocrine sweat glands. Apocrine glands are involved in the hair follicles of the armpit, scalp, and groin.

3.

What Are the Five Components of Sweating?

Sweat is primarily composed of water. The other components of sweat include the following in smaller quantities.
- Minerals such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium.
- Unmetabolized pharmacological drugs.
- Metabolites such as ammonia, urea, and lactate.

4.

What Is the Cause of Sweating?

Sweating, also referred to as perspiration, is the body's mechanism to enhance cooling in the system. The nervous system is involved in triggering the sweat glands during the rise of the body temperature. Therefore, sweating can occur in a tense situation. In contrast, excessive sweating can result from faulty or impairment in triggering sweat glands.

5.

What Food Items Can Diminish Sweating?

Certain foods and fruits help reduce the degrees of sweating. This includes the following.
- Water.
- Almonds.
- Bananas.
- Foods containing high calcium.
- Olive oil.
- Oats
- Vegetables and fruits contain high water.

6.

What Are the Functions of Sweat?

The principal function of sweat is the controlling of body temperature. The skin cools automatically when the water contained in sweat evaporates. Another function of sweat is it helps with gripping.

7.

What Is the Name of Human Sweat?

Sweating is referred to as perspiration, a process of the production of sweat by the sweat glands. At the same time, an excessive degree of sweating is known as hyperhidrosis. Sweat is composed of water, salt, sugar, and chemicals.

8.

Which Hormones Are Involved in Sweat Production?

Hormones are involved in the production of sweat on an emotional basis. Emotional sweating results in case of stress, fear, and anxiety. Here, the ambient temperature is not regulated. Instead, acetylcholine influences eccrine glands, and adrenaline takes effect on both the eccrine and apocrine glands sweat secretion.

9.

Which Quantity of Sweat Is Considered Normal?

Human sweat secretion depends on a wide range. The amount of sweat differs from individual to individual. During physical activity, the healthy individual can sweat about 0.5 to 2 liters for an hour.

10.

What Chemicals Are Seen in the Sweat?

The chemical constituents of sweat include the following.
- Sodium- 0.9 gm/ liter
- Potassium- 0.2 g/l
- calcium - 0.015 g/l
- Magnesium- 0.0013 g/l

11.

What Organs Form Control of Sweating?

Sweating is the body's process or mechanism of regulation of body temperature. The autonomic nervous system enhances and controls sweating. It is part of the brain and the nervous system, which cannot be controlled by humans.

12.

Which Nerves Control the Sweating Process?

The sympathetic nervous system controls the sweating mechanism. They are distributed to sweat glands all over the body. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, so sweat is secreted as a response to stressful emergencies or situations.

13.

Can Sweating Result From Hormonal Imbalance?

A hormonal imbalance can be attributable to excessive sweating since certain hormones are responsible for body temperature. So, hormones can influence or affect how the body regulates temperature. In addition, in women, menopause is considered a typical cause of excessive sweating.

14.

Is Sweating a Major Concern?

Sweating is not a significant concern as it is a natural mechanism regulating body temperature. However, excessive or decreed sweating requires medical attention. And at times, excessive sweating is a sign of severe illness. Therefore, one should seek healthcare professionals if sweating affects daily functions.

15.

How Much Sweating Is Considered Abnormal?

Sweating than usual is considered an abnormal condition, whereas certain high amounts of sweating during physical activity are normal. Then, the person sweating while sitting in a chair is abnormal and thus regarded as excessive. Here, the temperature regulation system becomes overactive and thus results in more intense sweat than normal.
Dr. Sofia
Dr. Sofia

General Practitioner

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