May 1, 2015
Some people go through life trying to keep their head down so they don’t draw too much attention to themselves — but not Janene Vermeire. She went through much of her adult life trying to keep her arms down.
Vermeire suffered from a medical condition called hyperhidrosis — excessive sweating — in her armpit area. Unfortunately, as a flight attendant for almost 15 years, she found keeping her arms down to hide the sweat marks almost impossible.
“I have 135 people’s eyes on me every time I fly somewhere and they would see my sweating — and that was huge,” says the 32-year-old Calgary mom. To hide her problem, she’d wear sweaters, which would only make her perspire more.
“It was just embarrassing, and it’s something that I was self-conscious about all day, every day,” she says. “I wouldn’t have to be doing any physical activity. I would just sweat.”
Vermeire tried many different treatments, including antiperspirants prescribed by her doctor, but nothing worked. That is until she tried an increasingly popular procedure often associated with cosmetic medicine: Botox.
Derived from the potentially deadly bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, Botox has been widely and safely used for decades for a variety of medical conditions, including treating chronic migraines. Most people are familiar with its cosmetic use to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
But few know about its effectiveness in treating hyperhidrosis, says Dr. Wendy Tink, clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine.
“Sweating is a normal function of the body — it helps cool us down,” says the family doctor. But about two to three per cent of the population suffer from hyperhidrosis and sweat excessively in certain areas, often the armpits, palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
“There is nothing wrong with their sweat glands,” she says. Instead, it’s the signals from their brain that are causing their sweat glands to overreact to normal situations.
“It can be a vicious circle,” she says. “You worry it’s going to get worse and then that gives them another reason for sweating.”
Approved more than a decade ago by Health Canada, Botox has been revolutionary for many people suffering from hyperhidrosis. It works by blocking the signals from the nerve endings to the sweat glands so the glands are no longer activated, Tink says.
While it can be used in other areas, most patients are treated for hyperhidrosis in the armpits because injections to the hands and feet are often intolerably painful, she adds.
“There are about 25 injections per armpit, so it can be a bit uncomfortable, too,” she says. Costing about $1,000 for both armpits, the effect begins about a week after treatment and lasts between six months and year.
“A lot of insurance companies are covering the cost for patients because it’s seen to be a medical problem and not just a cosmetic issue,” Undseth says.
Medical insurance through Vermeire’s employer covered most of the cost of her treatments. Since receiving her first injections three years ago, she’s gone back for repeat injections about once a year.
And while people with hyperhidrosis often suffer in silence, trying to hide their condition, Vermeire has no qualms about letting people know now.
“It’s funny because most people are embarrassed about this kind of condition, but I tell everybody about it because it’s something I wish I had known about years ago,” she says. “It’s changed my life.”
Joel Schlesinger, Calgary Herald