Excessive sweating from the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet affects roughly one in every hundred people—enough to earn it a medical name of palmar hyperhidrosis (which translates roughly to “really wet hands”). Essentially, the condition is caused by an overreaction of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the hormonal response commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. In this case a person’s sympathetic nervous system’s response to a stressor actually multiplies, with excessive release of the hormones which cause (among other symptoms) extreme sweatiness of the palms of the hands.
Dealing with Sweaty Hands
Some approaches to the problem of sweaty hands are as simple as making the condition less of an irritation. Carry a small hand towel or a cloth handkerchief with you so you can unobtrusively dry your hands as needed. You can apply anti-perspirant to your hands; choose an aluminum-based product labeled as anti-perspirant, which (unlike a deodorant) has the properties to block sweat production. Alternatively, you can use talc powder, cornstarch, medicated powder, or alum to help your hands stay dry. For some people this results in an unpleasant “caking” of the powder when the hands sweat anyway, but it works to reduce wetness for some. Try it out and see if it works for you.
You can take the option of declining handshakes with the offered reason that you are susceptible to colds, or saying that you have a cold and don’t wish to infect the other person. Offering a reasonable excuse like this will take any perceived insult out of a refusal to shake, and absolve you of the need to grip someone else’s hand in your own sweaty one.
Relief for Sweaty Hands
In some cases, the excessive sweating of palms can be controlled or reduced by the use of biofeedback techniques such as meditation or controlled breathing. These methods, practiced regularly, can actually calm the response of the body’s sympathetic nervous system and relieve the resulting symptoms. In some cases, weight loss can also have a positive effect on this condition, altering the body’s metabolism and hormonal responses to stress.
There are now some medications available which block the neurological transmission of the hormones which cause sweaty palms. Some newer products on the market which are made to target hypertension can also control excessive sweating. You can ask your physician about prescribing one of these drugs to alleviate the problem. In some cases the sweating can be induced by medications you’re already taking, particularly some classes of antidepressants, so you might ask your physician about switching to a different medication to see if the problem eases.
Botox has been used to block the neurological transmitter which causes armpit sweating, and has been used in some cases on palms as well, although the injection at this site is more painful and not always effective. There are also surgical options to consider in extreme cases. Thorascoscopic sympathectomy is a surgery which actually cuts the sympathetic nerve which controls sweat production of the hands and feet.