Hyperhidrosis: Is it a Disability?

My article below appears in the International Hyperhidrosis Society’s September/October 2011 Sweat Solutions newsletter. You may find my original article here.

I can’t ever remember not sweating. As early as 3rd grade, my excessive sweating permeated my entire life. I avoid or am unable to perform certain tasks in daily life, thereby inhibiting my ability to function at my highest level. It has been pondered for some time whether HH (hyperhidrosis) should be classified as a disability. The statutory definition from Section 902 of the Americans With Disabilities Act states, “with respect to an individual, the term ‘disability’ means (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.”

I’ve heard others ask whether hyperhidrosis should disqualify them from an employment opportunity, and I’ve often thought in what instances it would disqualify me. For example, if I were to become a police officer or enter the military in a combat position, that probably wouldn’t work out. Having hand-to-hand contact with weapons (in what may be extreme heat) would not lend itself to my safety, or the safety of my fellow service members. The lack of grip, in combination with sweating excessively while in the field, would lead to faster dehydration and exhaustion than the average person. In this instance, I’d say yes, I should be disqualified from serving in the police force or military. However, what about non-combat assignments such as office personnel, medics, nurses, etc.? While there might be certain adjustments or accommodations that could be made, I don’t feel that my palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis would exclude me from serving my country in these types of capacities, especially when there are effective options for treatment like Botox and iontophoresis.

Prior to my own Botox experience, I put myself through college working as a Certified Pharmacy Technician. There was constant contact with paper and Rx labels that had to be affixed to the Rx vials. I ended up buying a tiny battery-operated desk fan that I placed directly in front of me on the filling counter. This way, I didn’t smear the labels or lose my grip on the counting tray as I was transferring the pills from the tray into the vials. I felt kind of embarrassed at first, but I got over it because it was a simple modification that allowed me to be more effective at my job. During this time, I also tried beta blockers and anticholinergics as therapy options.

In my current job as a medical editor, I’ve had several instances where I’ve considered it to be a disability. I have a laptop computer rather than a desktop computer, so when I’m not at my docking station using my regular keyboard and mouse, I must have a plug-in wireless mouse—the mouse pad on my laptop does not detect my sweaty fingers and is virtually unusable. In addition, my desktop keyboard has developed a thin coating over it from where my self-made raindrops have dried and made the keys more prone to collecting dirt.

The first time I ever traveled to one of my company’s live education meetings, I was the one who was assigned to walk the microphone up and down the aisles during the Q&A session. When I handed the microphone to one particular gentleman (who was a physician, no less) he literally held the microphone away from himself to determine why in the world it was soaking wet. While I would’ve hoped, perhaps, he’d heard the term hyperhidrosis before and might understand, I was still mortified over his reaction to the microphone exchange. Afterward, I explained to a coworker that I was happy to do whatever was needed, but I preferred tasks that didn’t require direct hand-to-hand contact so that I could be more effective in serving our company. After the meeting was over, I had a complete breakdown in front of my boss and another manager. So, the first impression I presented to my boss for how effective I was on-site was not a good one, in my opinion. Yet I press on, knowing that I don’t have to be reduced by my circumstances. I can be changed by them, but not reduced by them. Until, and unless, hyperhidrosis becomes classified as a disability with recognized limitations and suggested adaptations, we must all be brave enough to ask for the modifications we need in order to better cope and be productive in our daily environments.

Where does this courage to live as a sweater come from? It comes, in part, from my experience with the professional and knowledgeable staff at the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHHS). They are the leading independent authority on excessive sweating; they offer information, treatment options, and support for all of us who are afflicted with a bit more moisture than the average person. More importantly, they offer an absolute sense of hope. We all long to know that we matter, that we are enough just as we are. The IHHS has validated me and helped me on my journey toward accepting exactly who I am. I am still finding the right combination of treatment for my hyperhidrosis and hope to try iontophoresis soon, but my future is bright. If hyperhidrosis ever becomes classified as a disability, I gladly will claim it. The disability classification would further enable me to live my truth and spread awareness about a condition that is under-recognized and under-treated.

Maria recently launched her blog, Hyperhidrosis—My Life as a Puddle (and other adventures), after an awesome experience with the International Hyperhidrosis Society. You can find her living her truth and raising awareness one drop at a time at: http://mylifeasapuddle.com and on our FaceBook page. The IHHS sincerely thanks Maria for her invaluable contributions and participation in our work. She is starting a trend!

Copyright © 2011 My Life as a Puddle

13 thoughts on “Hyperhidrosis: Is it a Disability?

  1. ~EddyK says:

    hi I’ve suffered from palmar and plantar (hands and feet) HH as long as I can remember, and I cannot agree more. I would just like to suggest wearing gloves when using the computer. if you stretch the gloves tight enough, the trackpad may be able to detect your hands! it works sometimes for me.
    I would also like to support your idea of HH being a disability, because it DOES affect our productivity! as a student, I often have to redo an assignment because my hands have ripped the paper in some way. I have often been laughed at for wearing gloves in class, but I do it to stay productive. People are almost always disgusted by my hands, and I find it to be an extreme disability socially. thanks for this, I’ll try to follow often!

  2. Tina Morales says:

    I have been suffering with excessive underarm sweating my whole life, I have seen a handful of doctors and tried everything I can think of. I recently started using a product called 1-2Dry and it has been working really great. It absorbs all the sweat in these little comfortable pads that go under my clothes- which ensures no one can see it and I don’t get any embarrassing stains! Hope this might help others with my same problem!

  3. Maria says:

    Hello, I´m from Colombia, I’ve suffered from palmar, plantar and underarm hyperhidrosis since I was a child, I have tried a lot of things, but nothing works for me, It´s a shame that the International Hyperhidrosis Society doesn´t exist in my country, there are a lot of products that I would like to try. Fortunately there is a product in my country and it has only worked for my underarm hyperhidrosis (and I sweat a lot, I always carry with me a towel for my hands), the comercial name of the antiperspirant is NoSweat, and is only sell in a store: Artemisa (Colombia). I hope this might help others with my same problem. I hope that soon products offered by International Hyperhidrosis Society can be sold in my country. Thank you very much.

    • Hi Maria! The IHHS works internationally and conducts symposiums periodically around the country. Yes, they are based in the USA but are easily accessible by email or phone if you ever have any questions. They don’t sell anything on their website, but there are links to the products they recommend that will direct you to different retailers. You should be able to buy most of the products online (since it’s the world-wide web) and have them shipped to you (the shipping fees might be higher since you’re on a different continent, but don’t let that stop you). For a list of products I’ve tried or want to try, you can view this blog post of mine: http://mylifeasapuddle.com/sweat-friendly-products-techniques-2.html

  4. Joe says:

    Hello from Wisconsin. In spite of the local climate I am still usually worried about publicly sweating most months. I’ve had whole-body HH since my 20’s but it’s really taken off since CABG surgery 5 years ago. It’s absolutely absurd… heavy facial and lower back/abdominal sweating after the least exertion. I’ve consulted multiple doctors, a dermatologist, two cardiologists and every other health professional willing to listen with no concrete results. My vitals are now excellent, I regularly exercise and feel quite energetic until the accursed sweating starts. I’ve gone from being an avid DIY’er around the house to a cringing ninny… “Oh hell, if I do that I’ll be soaked in 5 minutes”.

    Does anyone else have the whole-body type of HH?
    Thanks for a courageous and wonderful blog.

    • Hi Joe! You have no idea how many times I say the same thing. “If I do that, I’ll have to take another shower.” Either that or I will plan my physically exerting activities for earlier in the day to minimize soakage.

      I’ve had full body sweating before, most recently yesterday. We had a work meeting at a coffee shop that had no air conditioning! So not cool for people like us. I had a hard time concentrating because I was too worried about sweating through my clothes.

    • Cheri says:

      Joe- I am so relieved to learn that I am not the only person with HH of the entire body! While the sweating is certainly more profuse in some locations, there is literally no part of my body that doesn’t sweat to an embarrassingly noticeable degree. There is no relief from this anguish!

    • nick says:

      I have whole body hyperhidrosis and I work in a kitchen as an assisted living facility and I sweat 6 pounds all in 4 hours everyday. I have to drink 10 liters of water to replenishhelp me what do I do.it’s disgusting for everybody involved.

  5. Sarah says:

    OMGGGGGG iff only normal people began to understand how much exsessive sweating (palmer hypohydrosis) affects my life i am 20 and i am a really creative person love arts, fashion and media productions BUTTTTT HH has prevented me from pursuing this. I sometimes feel to give up and stay indoors all the time so that no one can notice. I sometimes feel so depressed and to be honest don’t feel like even going university due to the embarrassment. The weirdest part about it is that my boyfriend once asked me if i wanted to have a child AS A JOKE but it got me thinking that i cant pass this on to my children (i got it from my mum) IT HAS AFFECTED MY WHOLE LIFE

  6. HH Teenager says:

    Hi Maria,
    I’m 17 years old and I’ve battled with HH since early childhood. I never understood why my hands constantly sweat and my friends and family never understood either. The sweat on my palms drip and sometimes it’s so uncontrollable, especially during school and when I write. I’ve been doing a lot of research on HH and I recently discovered your blog. I really am so thankful for finding it! Through your stories and experiences, you’ve really inspired me to not get embarrassed so easily by my condition. Your blog is so inspirational and I now have a more positive outlook on HH. I hope to be as open and understanding towards HH as you someday! Thanks again!

  7. lili rn says:

    I have palmar/plantar/armpit hyperhydrosis, with sweating everywhere with exercise, especially face and groin. I work as a nurse. For the most part it has not affected my job, because I have the excuse of wearing gloves for patient care. The main problem is when I have to remove gloves and then reapply them…sometimes I can’t get them back on! It is also embarassing when I get stressed or busy and I have visible facial and armpit sweating. My coworkers all know about it, and tease me (lovingly) about my sweatiness. I carry a towel with me any time I exercise, and try not to need to enter any public places afterwards as my entire outfit is soaked! I enjoyed reading your blog entries.

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