Sweating and body odor
Sweating and body odor
Sweating and body odor can occur when you exercise or exert yourself, you're in a hot environment, or are nervous, anxious or under stress. This type of sweating and body odor is natural and healthy.
Sweating is usually only a minor nuisance. The odor probably is more troublesome. Although perspiration is practically odorless, perspiration can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with bacteria on your skin.
Unusual changes in sweating — either excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis) — can be cause for concern. Likewise, changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem.
For normal sweating and body odor, however, lifestyle and home treatments can effectively manage your symptoms. In some cases, a prescription antiperspirant or deodorant may be needed.
Healthy people sweat, but when, where and how much varies. Factors that cause most people to sweat include:
Perspiration that's triggered by emotion is most likely to occur on your face, in your armpits, on your palms and on the soles of your feet. But how much you sweat and even the way your sweat smells can be influenced by your mood, your diet, some drugs and medical conditions, and even your hormone levels. What's more — unfair as it seems — some people inherit a tendency to sweat heavily, especially on their soles and palms.
Because it's almost impossible to define normal sweating and body odor, try to learn what's normal for you. That will help you pinpoint any unusual changes.
When to see a doctor
The cause of sweating and body odor stems from your body's temperature regulation system, specifically your sweat glands. Sweating helps maintain your body temperature, hydrates your skin and balances your body fluids and electrolytes, chemicals in your body such as sodium and calcium.
Your skin has two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands develop in areas abundant in hair follicles, such as on your scalp, armpits and groin and open into the hair follicle just before it opens onto the skin surface.
When your body temperature rises, your autonomic nervous system stimulates the eccrine glands to secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin, where it cools your body as it evaporates. This fluid (perspiration) is composed mainly of water and salt (sodium chloride) and contains trace amounts of other electrolytes — substances that help regulate the balance of fluids in your body — as well as substances such as urea.
Apocrine glands, on the other hand, secrete a fatty sweat directly into the tubule of the gland. When you're under emotional stress, the wall of the tubule contracts and the sweat is pushed to the surface of your skin where bacteria begin breaking it down. Most often, it's the bacterial breakdown of apocrine sweat that causes an odor.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or primary care doctor. In some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Don't hesitate to ask your doctor any other questions you have.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During your appointment, your doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. He or she may order blood or urine tests to determine if the sweating is caused by another medical condition, such as an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
Treatments and drugs
If you're concerned about sweating and body odor, the solution may be simple: an over-the-counter (OTC) antiperspirant and deodorant.
If over-the-counter antiperspirants don't help control your sweating, your doctor may prescribe aluminum chloride (Drysol, Xerac Ac). For best results, apply the antiperspirant at night to the areas most prone to sweating. Prescription antiperspirants are strong solutions that can cause red, swollen and itchy skin in some people. If irritation develops, wash the medication off in the morning.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can do a number of things on your own to reduce sweating and body odor. The following suggestions may help:
Last Updated: 2010-12-09
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