My freshman year of college, I started using the Internet on a regular basis for school and research purposes. One day I was surfing the ‘net and randomly decided to Google “excessive sweating.” Low and behold, a slew of sites populated the screen, and there I was manically scanning them in disbelief. Apparently this was a common enough problem that medical practices actually were addressing it. This was the first time I had heard the word hyperhidrosis, not to mention the first time I felt as if I weren’t alone in my misery.
I’d like to point out that when you seek information on the Internet, especially for the treatment of HH, please be wary of what you may find and practice due diligence when deciding on any form of treatment. There are scams out there for tea that reduces sweating, so-called herbal remedies that will stop the sweat (more on herbal options later, as there are some reputable plants to be found in nature that are legitimate), antiperspirants, etc. that may or may not work. During this freshman year Internet search, the bulk of sites that popped up were for dermatology or neurosurgeon practices that touted the benefits of a surgery for HH, called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS). While this is a valid option for many people who have severe cases of HH or who have it on certain areas of the body that may be more difficult to hide (eg, craniofacial HH), the side effects of surgery are severe and most people will develop compensatory sweating (CS), typically in the trunk area of the body. In short, ETS surgery involves the cutting of the sympathetic nerve chain located behind the lungs; the chain resembles a ladder, and depending on what areas of the body sweat excessively, the corresponding nerve section on the ladder can be clamped (reversible) or cut (not reversible). For a detailed description of ETS, look under “hyperhidrosis treatments” on the International Hyperhidrosis Society’s website.
After discovering I had a recognized medical condition, I decided to give an informative speech about it in my dreaded public speaking class. I figured if I had to stand in front of a classroom of students and live out a trigger situation, I might as well tell them about it. While most people tend to sweat more if public speaking makes them nervous, for those with HH it can be an absolute nightmare.
I had prepared some note cards about what to say, and of course they ended up drenched and ready to come apart at the slightest bit of pressure. While I knew for the most part what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, the entire time I was up there I was fighting a vicious internal monologue about my sweating. The trigger situation instigates the sweating, the sweating instigates the monologue, and then the sweating manifests into something that becomes uncontrollable and drastically diminishes my confidence and personality. For me (and I would think for most people who have HH), I’m not sweating because I’m nervous. I’m nervous because I’m sweating. There is a difference.
I recall the introduction of the speech was, “Excessive, uncontrollable, overactive sweating of the hands and feet, which also may be accompanied by facial blushing. This is what I live with every day, and it’s called hyperhidrosis.” The conclusion was, “So next time you shake someone’s hand and it’s dripping wet, please don’t pull back in disgust and make an immediate attempt to wipe off your hand. Instead, admire the person for having the courage to shake hands in the first place.” And that’s the thing. I don’t want my first impression to be a wet hand shake that implies nervousness. I’m not necessarily nervous, I’m just necessarily wet. As Lady Gaga said, I was “born this way.” So please don’t shun me for who I am.
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