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