Why do we sweat?

We all sweat one way or another. We may sweat from having a spicy meal, after an intense exercise workout, or just by standing directly under the hot sun though this is not advised.

Sweating is a way how the body regulates its temperature, i.e., sweat is released to avoid the body from overheating, or it can also be directly related to an emotional state like stress or nervousness.

When you shiver, the reverse happens, as shivering means your body temperature has gone down and it is trying to return to its normal temperature by moving parts of the body. Apart from a cold environment, shivering can also be brought about from an emotional state like stress or fright, e.g., listening to ghost stories in the dark or watching horror movies.

Where do we sweat?

We commonly sweat on the following body areas:

  • the face
  • armpits
  • palms of the hands (sweaty palms)
  • soles of the feet

Note that sweating is an essential bodily process. Not sweating can be dangerous as the body may overheat and shutdown. On the other hand, excessive sweating may affect a person psychologically and physically.

What are the situations that make us sweat?

While sweating is normal and part of daily life, some situations that stimulate increased sweating include:

High temperature: Elevated environments like a hot day or a hot and stuffy room can cause increased sweating.

Emotions: Being put in emotional stressful conditions can bring about heavy sweating, e.g., feeling angry, fearful, embarrassed or anxious during an interview.

Spicy foods: Sweating as a response to a hot curry or hot drink is called gustatory sweating. Some people are known to start sweating just by looking at spicy food.

Caffeine and hot drinks: Caffeine is a stimulant and therefore it elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, and increases sweating. Hot drinks have about the same effect as spicy food, i.e., they raise your body’s temperature.

Smoking: Nicotine has similar effects like caffeine, i.e., elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and increases sweating.

Medication: Certain medical issues and their medication can cause sweating for no apparent reason, and they include:

  • cancer
  • chronic pain
  • hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • infection
  • painkillers
  • synthetic thyroid hormones

Menopause: Women often experience hot flashes of sweat during the day, night or at both times, due to hormonal fluctuations related to menopause.

Complications related to sweating

Continued bouts of sweating or an absence of sweating, together with other symptoms listed below can indicate underlying medical issues which should be checked by a doctor:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • difficulty breathing

If you tend to sweat excessively in the armpits, hands and feet, you may have a condition known as hyperhidrosis. It can cause embarrassment and hinder you in your daily routine.

On the other hand, if you don’t sweat at all, you may have hypohidrosis, which is dangerous as you can easily get dehydrated and you will be at much higher risk of getting sunstroke. You should consult a doctor for more information on hypohidrosis, if you do not sweat.

How can we minimize sweating?

Normal sweating won’t affect your wellbeing, and a tropical climate will definitely make you sweat. There are steps you can take to reduce sweating, and they are mostly lifestyle changes like:

  • wear natural and loose-fitting clothing like cotton to allow your skin to breathe freely. Your sweat will also dry off faster on natural fabric compared to synthetic fabric.
  • keep your face and body clean (shower more) for more comfort.
  • ensure you are well hydrated to replace fluids lost from sweating.
  • avoid going out in strong sunlight or use an umbrella which offers some protection against the heat.
  • consider changing your diet to avoid spicy foods or hot drinks that make you sweat, or enjoy them in a cool (air-conditioned) environment.
  • apply anti-perspirant to underarms to control sweating and odor.
  • change out of sweaty clothing as soon as possible. This is for hygiene purposes to avoid bacterial or yeast infection.

If your sweating is caused by medication, seek your doctor’s advice. Perhaps there could be alternative medications to take.

We would like to reiterate that sweating is a normal bodily function. Excessive sweating or not sweating, in conjunction with other symptoms may indicate a health issue that should be attended by a doctor.

This article is intended to provide general information on how and why we sweat, and is in no way to be taken as medical advice. Our readers are advised to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment, especially if they have current medical issues.

By Aaron
7th August 19:50 2020

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