Imagine sweating so much you're afraid to be around other people.
Close to 10 million Americans suffer from this medical condition, known as hyperhidrosis. But there are now ways to help them keep it a secret.
John Wilkinson can walk around in just his shirt sleeves, without attracting unwanted attention. That wasn't always the case -- excessive sweating made him shy away from public places.
"You'd be sitting in class or at a ball game or whatever, the guy next to me, or gal next to me is completely dry and comfortable and I'm completely sweated out," Wilkinson recalled.
Dr. David Pariser, a dermatologist who founded the International Hyperhidrosis Society, was not surprised of Wilkinson's efforts to hide his condition, like putting paper towels under his clothes.
"These are stories we hear every day," Pariser said. "Office worker who buys three of the same outfit so they can change and nobody knows that they had to change, people who stuff maxi pads in their armpits, who wrap themselves with gauze, it's a terrible disabling problem."
Unfortunately, many people with hyperhidrosis -- and even some doctors and insurance companies -- don't understand excessive sweating is a medical condition.
There are now treatments for varying degrees of hyperhidrosis.
Shutting Down Hyperhidrosis
The first step is to get a good antiperspirant, not just a deodorant. Deodorants only treat odor, which comes from bacteria on the apocrine sweat gland. A deodorant's antiseptic or fragrance takes care of the bad smell. But wetness comes primarily from the eccrine sweat gland, and is generally odor-free.
Antiperspirants use an aluminum compound to shut the gland, blocking the release of all that water.
Some consumers are afraid that using antiperspirants containing aluminum may cause breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease. But most doctors agree antiperspirants containing aluminum are safe.
The Alzheimer's scare can be linked back to a 1960s-era study which found abnormally high concentrations of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer's victims.
Since then, new evidence has led various health organizations and the Alzheimer's association to conclude, "Aluminum is not a key factor in developing Alzheimer's disease."
Updated research also found no conclusive link between antiperspirant use and breast cancer, according to the Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute.
Stronger antiperspirants containing more aluminum are sold with a "clinical" strength label. Doctors can also prescribe a powerful antiperspirant.
Unfortunately, none of those products worked for Wilkinson. He then turned injections of botulinum toxin, also known as botox.
"The treatment is unbelievable," he said. "I would literally go from sitting there, drip, drip, drip, drip, sweating like crazy for no reason, to bone dry, just like touching the top of my arm. It was liberating, is the best way to describe it."
Hyperhidrosis doesn't just affect the underarms. Some people suffer from excessive sweating on their feet and hands, which can also be dangerous.
"I had a policeman who had trouble holding his weapon, because his hands would slip in it," Pariser said. "I had a mother who dropped her baby because her hands were so sweaty. [The] baby slipped right out of her hands."
"I had a teacher who, in the old days when they were using chalk, the chalk would crumble in here hand because it got wet," he continued.
Gemma Peterson and her daughter Kalie both have hyperhidrosis on their hands.
Peterson thought the condition would cost her the love of her life.
"He mentioned something about, 'My mother said people with sweaty hands can't be trusted,'" she recalled. "So I'm just going, 'I'm never going to get married.'"
Hyperhidrosis also gets in the way of Kalie's homework.
"By the time she gets finished writing her name, the paper will be all wet," Peterson explained.
Treatments for excessive sweaty hands include prescription medication, immersing the hands in water with a very low electrical current, and botox injections, which have also worked for Peterson.
"For the first time I was able to hold my husband's hand while we were walking towards the movie theatre," Peterson recalled. "It was really nice."
The injections last about six months, and work for nearly 80 percent of patients who try them. For those who don't respond to that treatment, there is surgery. But it's an option that should only be viewed as a last resort.
People with hyperhidrosis often feel trapped by their condition.