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Hyperhydrosis and other skin conditions
Excessive sweating may increase the risk of developing other skin conditions. In particular, bacterial and fungal infections. Microorganisms that are responsible for infections favour environments that are dark, humid and warm. This is the rationale for the development of infections often experienced in the foot region. A good example is athlete's foot, also medically known as tenia pedis. Bugs love humidity, warmth and darkness so we have to try do take away or reduce these factors that contribute to bacterial or fungal growth.
Over and above creating an ideal environment for infectious organisms, individuals with hyperhidrosis also harbour other factors that can contribute to skin infections.
The alteration of two additional factors can make an individual with excessive sweating especially prone to skin infections. These two factors are skin pH and skin maceration.
The concept of pH is really a term used in chemistry but has enormous implications in our daily lives. The pH of something refers to its degree acidity or alkalinity (these are opposite to one another). The ecology of our lakes, the soil we cultivate, the food we eat, the drops we put in our eyes are just a few examples where pH plays a critical role.
It turns out our skin’s surface maintains a specific pH range. The superficial layer that maintains this pH range is also referred to as the skin’s pH mantle*. Normal skin pH is usually somewhere between 5.4 and 5.9 (see pH scale diagram).
When this range is maintained our skin is ‘happy’. In other words, optimal skin hydration, elasticity and barrier function are maintained. When skin pH is disrupted, the skin begins to dry up and loses its suppleness (the reason for staying away from harsh high alkaline soaps that tend to increase skin pH).
* Rippke F et al. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2002;3(4):261-72. ** Schmid-Wendtner MH, Korting HC. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2006;19(6):296-302
In individuals with excessive sweating, the affected regions will tend to ‘wash’ away the skin’s pH mantle. In turn, this disrupts the barrier function of the skin and infections can more easily access underlying skin tissue**.
In dermatology, the term maceration refers to the skin’s prolonged exposure to high levels of moisture. In regions exposed to maceration, the bonds between skin planes or layers weaken (see diagrams below for the many layers of skin). This significantly alters the skin's ability to withstand damage, especially friction. This becomes problematic if a skin region rubs against the insides of a shoe or even itself, in cases of overweight individuals that have skin folds.
Not all individuals with hyperhidrosis will develop skin infections. But it is important to be aware that excessive sweating can play a significant role. The possibility of developing infections is another good reason to treat and neutralize the humidity in affected regions, in particular, the feet.
View this video for more on hyperhidrosis and its complications