June 3, 2011 at 9:13 AM ET
Imagine what your life would be like if your hands were always dripping in sweat: You'd make up excuses after giving a clammy handshake. You'd worry about your touch devices slipping out of your hands.
You'd avoid reading print editions of the newspaper to prevent staining your skin and clothes with ink. And you may even shy away from holding hands with your sweetheart.
Sophia Wastler, 36, of Virginia Beach, Va., has lived through all these situations. "You just think you're a weird freak and you suffer in silence," she admits.
Wastler also recalls being asked to go barefoot in modern dance class, and feeling embarrassed after leaving huge puddles at her feet and mortified when wiping them up.
It took Wastler until she was 31 to learn why her underarms, palms and soles of her feet were constantly soaked. She had gone to see a new doctor (not because of the sweating), and instead of giving her usual excuse after shaking his hand and leaving it moist, she blurted out, "My hands are always sweaty."
Then the doctor told her, "You have hyperhidrosis." That's the first time Wastler heard of a medical condition that causes excessive sweating.
"Primary focal hyperhidrosis is when you're sweating excessively for the physiological requirements at that time, and it's not related to any other medical problem or a side effect of a medication," explains Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
For example, if you're sitting indoors, watching TV, and you're drenched in sweat -- far more than others around you -- that's not healthy sweating, which is simply keeping your body cool. It's extreme and excessive perspiration.
Extreme sweating, when it's from diabetes, night sweats or menopausal hot flashes, typically occurs all over the body. But in primary hyperhidrosis, a person sweats profusely in certain areas, most commonly the armpits, palms or face. It may also occur on the scalp, soles of the feet, in the groin area or along the breast tissue.
Hyperhidrosis often begins in childhood or adolescence, and it tends to run in families. "But there's such a negative stigma about sweating that people often don't talk about it or think it's them -- they need to shower more or find the right deodorant," explains Glaser.
"Most people don't realize that excessive sweating is a condition and there's treatment for it," she says.
Hyperhidrosis sufferers have normal sweat glands, in terms of their size, number and function. So researchers suspect the cause has something to do with the signal coming from the brain, which is telling the sweat glands to produce wetness when it's not necessary, points out Glaser.
Treatment often starts with clinical strength antiperspirants available over the counter or by prescription. Botox injections every six or seven months into the affected are also effective.
That's what did the trick for Wastler and is currently keeping her hands dry. She also uses moisture-absorbing insoles for her feet.
"Life began for me at 31," Wastler admits, which is why she also recommends finding a doctorwho knows and understands hyperhidrosis.
Here are some interesting facts about the condition: