Contributed by- Dr. Pooja Chaudhary
Think sweat and words like stink, stickiness, smell and staining comes to our mind.
Think sweating and memories of a sweaty palm during examinations, a sweaty forehead before an interview, your favourite dress/ shirt getting spoiled or a stinking suffocated ride on a crowded bus on a hot summer day flashes right in front of your eyes.
Have you not ever asked; Why we sweat?
Sweat: A blessing in disguise
Our body heats up because of exercise, physical work or outside temperature. It requires to cool down naturally and get rid of the excess heat. Our brain reacts to this by releasing sweat from the eccrine glands. These glands are spread out across our entire body and they release a liquid through the pores which lowers the body temperature. This is sweat. Sweat is made up of water, sodium and other substances that help the body to cool down.
We have 2 types of sweat glands
- Eccrine glands: Thousands of eccrine glands found in the palm, soles and forehead effectively helps in regulating the temperature of the body. As soon as the body’s temperature rises, the nervous system reacts by stimulating the eccrine glands to release sweat.
- Apocrine glands: These glands in the armpits and groin are responsible for body odour. When sweat comes in contact with the bacteria (Staphylococcus hominis) residing in these zones, an unpleasant smell is produced. These glands can also get activated when a person is emotional, nervous or excited.
Why is it important to sweat?
Sweating is a natural phenomenon and it has many health and beauty related benefits:
- Promotes increased circulation of blood in the skin which boosts the circulatory system
- Removes toxins from the body
- Sweat acts as an antibiotic and helps fight sickness
- Lowers body temperature
- Promotes healthier and clearer skin
- Speeds healing
Sweating: What’s normal? What’s not?
The amount of sweat that is considered normal is quite variable and it depends on the demands of the body. People may sweat several litres or less than a litre in a day based on what they are doing.
- Sudden sweating: Excessive or sudden sweating can be a symptom of panic attack, hyperthyroidism or heart attack which needs an immediate doctor’s assistance
- Night sweat: Repeated episodes of extreme perspiration during sleep are often signs of low blood sugar, neurological and hormonal problems
- Cold clammy skin and sweating: Cold clammy skin and sweating is a sign of low blood sugar levels in the body and requires immediate attention
- Neck sweats: Neck sweat is mostly seen in people suffering from diabetes. It is also termed as gustatory sweating
- Salty sweat: Sweat contains salts ( sodium, chloride and potassium). Thus the salty taste and the salt rings on your clothes after exercise is completely normal
- Smelly sweat: This kind of sweat can indicate a rare and extremely inconvenient problem called as Fish odour syndrome or Trimethylaminuria
- Acidic sweat: This can indicate an acid imbalance in the body caused due to high stress levels
- Unusually stinky sweat: If your underarms sweat has strong odour then it is important to check your diet. Foods like garlic, stinky cheese, onions, cabbage and fried foods can rise in the form of dangerously potent body smell
- Absence of sweat: Certain people sweat less. This could be inherited or develop later in life. As we age, it is normal to sweat less. Diabetics and alcoholic may experience reduced sweating
Causes of excessive sweating
Factors that can cause excessive sweating are:
- Frey’s syndrome
- Medications for endocrine problems, diabetes and thyroid can trigger excessive sweating
- Hypertension and anti-depressants medications
- It can also be caused by certain infections, cancer, menopause, lung and heart diseases
Sweating is a natural phenomenon. One should not be embarrassed due to it. Though related to hygiene, the causes are deep rooted. Excessive sweating can be related to our physical, emotional and social health. If you have any concerns with your sweat, it is best to discuss it with your doctor!