Life With Excessive Sweating: What Causes Pit Stains, B.O., and Can It Be Stopped?


The human body has about 2 to 5 million sweat glands scattered across virtually every inch of skin, with higher concentrations on the extremities. The hands, feet, and scalp produce the most moisture, while the middle of the body generates less—but it’s safe to say that sweat appears everywhere, head to toe. That said, the underarm area gets the most attention when it comes to sweat, probably because the wet stains that spread across shirts are so obvious (as is the smell that begins to waft up from that area after a hot day, a strenuous workout, or a stressful meeting).

This is because there are two types of sweat glands found under the arms: eccrine and apocrine. While they both make sweat, the fluids have different compositions and cause different results.

Eccrine glands are the sweat glands found all over the body. Their primary function is to cool the body down by producing fluid that then evaporates from the surface of the skin. This fluid is basically just water and salt, which is essentially a sterile liquid that does little but dry up once excreted.

A condition known as hyperhidrosis can cause what is considered to be excessive sweating, defined as moderate to severe if it causes sufferers to change their clothes multiple times a day, requires towels or special powders to manage, and is so prevalent as to interfere with day-to-day activities. An estimated 10 million people in the United States—about 3 percent of the country’s population—deal with hyperhidrosis.

One way to address excessive sweating is by destroying the sweat glands themselves. Since only about 2 percent of the body’s total sweat glands reside in the underarm area, this solution can have minimal impact on a person’s overall ability to sweat and regulate body temperature, but a dramatic impact on the problem of underarm hyperhidrosis.

The application of electromagnetic energy with a device, such as miraDry®, when precisely directed at the glands in question, can selectively destroy the unwanted glands, rendering them incapable of producing any more moisture. On its own, the body does not naturally replace lost sweat glands by re-growing them, so this is considered by many to be a permanent solution to the problem.

Unlike eccrine glands, apocrine glands are found only in select areas—typically those that grow hair. They are concentrated in the underarms, as well as the groin and around the areolas, and even on the eyelids and in ear canals. The fluid produced by apocrine glands is more complex, containing proteins and other materials that make it more of a milky substance. This sweat is emptied into an associated hair follicle in times of exertion or stress.

On its own, apocrine sweat does not have an odor. Once it reaches the skin’s surface, however, it mixes with common bacteria there, and this interaction creates an unpleasant smell known as “body odor.”

Underarm apocrine glands can also be destroyed with focused energy, such as that delivered by the miraDry® device, and, like eccrine glands, apocrine glands do not naturally regenerate. Perhaps not surprisingly, this same technology can be used to damage hair follicles to prevent them from properly growing hair. This makes miraDry® and related technology an attractive choice for men and women who experience hyperhidrosis, excessive B.O., or unwanted hair in the underarm region.

Doctors recommend that anyone seeking a treatment for excessive sweat or body odor find an experienced medical professional who uses devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug administration, which means they have been tested and found to be both effective and safe. Treatment strategies should be customized to the patient, since every individual has a unique situation that requires a personalized approach.

Contact the Bengtson Center to learn more about miraDry® for excessive sweating in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. Send a message online to arrange a consultation or call the center at (616) 588-8880.

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