It Happened To Me: I Got Surgery To Make My Hands And Feet Stop Sweating

Hyperhidrosis made my hands and feet drip sweat all the time, so I went under the knife to make it stop.
Publish date:
May 27, 2013
It Happened To Me, surgery, sweating, hyperhidrosis

Read more from Kara over at our sister site, xoVain!

I have hyperhidrosis. Until I had a miraculous surgery, I used to sweat profusely from my hands and feet.

I’d turn in math tests all crinkly from my wet palms and leave little footprints on our hardwood floors. I would sit in my teenage bedroom and watch droplets of sweat slide from my feet down my leg, and I was just sitting there reading YM.

It sucked.

I remember developing this condition, which is shared by about three percent of the U.S. population, around age 11, right at the onset of puberty. (This is also when my bright-blonde hair began to darken and curl. Puberty blows!) I was already self-conscious about my big glasses and the gap in my teeth, so the fact that my hands would actually drip sweat even when I was sitting still under no stress made me feel super-uncomfortable in social situations.I would find ways to avoid any situations where I’d touch someone else’s hand; in church, I’d purposely make a bathroom trip during the part where you “share the peace” (read: shake hands) with the other people. My high-school boyfriends never got to hold my hand. When I really couldn’t avoid having people touch me, I would cringe as I watched them wipe their hands on their pant legs.

Of course, my anxiety over this just aggravated the sweating.

It affected my trendiness too! I could never wear jelly shoes -- the biggest fashion statement of 1998 -- or plastic flip-flops because I’d slide right out of them. I’m eternally thankful to Old Navy for dependably selling the canvas wedges I purchased every summer in high school.

At first, my parents thought it was something I’d grow out of, but with the advent of the Internet, I began doing research and discovered that I was not alone and that this wasn’t gonna go away.

There were things we could try, so I got my doctor to write me a prescription for a topical treatment called Drysol. I applied it to my palms and soles and slipped plastic baggies on every night. It stung, so I thought it was working; but in the end, it wasn’t a cure.

I convinced my mom to let me use her credit card and buy two ionic bath units, which I had read about online. Iontophoresis is the technical term for this treatment. I’d sit with these silly machines humming away, delivering tiny shocks to hands and feet, and watch the final seasons of "Friends" and "Frasier." Obviously, this scheme didn’t work at all.

Botox shots were an option, but in the middle of North Dakota in the early 2000s, this wasn’t at all plausible. I graduated high school and forced myself to pretend people weren’t wondering why my hands were sopping wet when they shook my hand to congratulate me.

Midway through my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, I decided I was done with this sweating crap. I could not actively flirt with boys when I was a walking sweat machine.

I found out that the surgery, which I’d never really considered a viable option considering it was pretty expensive, could be covered by my insurance. My mom and I made some calls, got some awesome news (it was!) and booked me an appointment at the legendary Mayo Clinic in Rochester, about an hour away from Minneapolis.

Hyperhidrosis affects people in different areas. While mine was “palmar” and “plantar,” others may sweat profusely from their face, their back, underarms -- you name it. I don’t know which one is the worst, because they’re all terrible when they’re your personal monster.

In order to be approved for the surgery, which is minimally invasive but was still a pretty big undertaking, I had to undergo some tests at the Mayo. I met with a couple surgeons, one who had me recite states and capitals while timed to see if I’d sweat more under pressure. Another had me run while he shouted at me, testing the relationship between my heart rate and my sweat.

The ultimate test was the one where I was told to strip naked and lie flat on my back on a stretcher. A nurse covered me head to toe in bright gold powder (ever see "Goldfinger"?). This powder would turn purple and point out my sweat patterns and where they were most dense. I was wheeled into a very small shed-like building where the temperature was about 130 degrees.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse said. “It’s pretty uncomfortable in there, and you have to be in there for 45 minutes, but you might lose some water weight!”

In I went. The nurse had neglected to tell me I could bring my own music to listen to while enclosed in this hot box. It being 2007, I would have chosen to play Broken Social Scene. However, I had the pleasure of listening to Rod Stewart’s cover of “Blue Moon” on a loop. For 45 minutes. With added guitar work by Eric Clapton, who I DETEST. I was in hell.

After memorizing each and every one of Rod’s smooth vocal cadences, I was released from my prison and my entire body was a lovely violet shade. My hands and feet, however, were black. I remained a bit lilac for several days after my hospital shower, but I was approved for surgery.

A minor insurance snafu kept me from actually getting the surgery for a few more months. I might have cried to the insurance agent on the phone; I had to convince them that my hyperhidrosis surgery was not for cosmetic reasons, but that it was affecting my entire day-to-day existence.

In June of 2007, I had my work done.

The surgeon performed what they call “endoscopic thorasic sympathectomy,” which basically means they went in under my arm, collapsed a lung, and clamped my sweat gland. It’s a safe, easy procedure, but there are a few possible side effects.

Some people who get the surgery experience what they call “compensatory sweating,” where the sweat stops in one place but picks up in another. My doctors warned me about this and told me the story of a lawyer who’d had it done for his hands, only to find that he’d become the new victim of excessive butt sweat. He was none too pleased about wearing Depends every day.

Luckily, I emerged unscathed. I have two tiny scars by my boobs that I like to tell people are my implant scars.

(FYI, if you’re ever in need of medical care, I totally recommend the Mayo. I was treated like a queen. My surgeons, who were mad busy, even came to check up on me. I totally get why the King of Jordan used to go there every year for his checkup.)

Today I have hands that don’t sweat. Ever. My feet still do, but definitely not as badly as they used to. The rest of me sweats normally.

Do any of you sweat a lot? Like, A LOT? Ever get any medical treatments for it?