A GUIDE FOR TEACHING STAFF, PARENTS & CARERS
Hyperhidrosis is possibly one of the most common skin conditions you have never heard of. The prevalence of hyperhidrosis is at least one percent of the population, but some estimates suggest it could be as high as five percent. That means it is very likely that you will have a child or children in your school that is affected by it.
WHAT IS HYPERHIDROSIS?
We all sweat; it is a normal function of the body to help keep our body temperature stable. People with hyperhidrosis sweat more than is required to control their body temperature. They sweat more than normal when resting and even more when they are anxious or exerting themselves.
WHICH PART(S) OF THE BODY ARE AFFECTED?
The most common sites are the hands and feet. Some children even as young as Key Stage One can be affected by hyperhidrosis of the hands and feet. Other areas of the body that can be affected are the armpits, face/head, chest, back and groin. These sites are typically affected at or after puberty. Most people, once they develop hyperhidrosis, are affected for life.
WHAT CAUSES HYPERHIDROSIS?
We don’t know precisely what causes it, but we do know that the nerves that make us sweat are switched on more in people who have the condition.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF THIS EXCESSIVE SWEATING?
Imagine what your average day would be like if your hands or feet were constantly wet and you might begin to understand how a person with hyperhidrosis is affected. Holding a pen and writing on paper which just absorbs the sweat from the hand, holding hands with parents, siblings, friends is often avoided. Shoes and socks can be wet through all day long which eventually causes them to rot and then leaving footprints when walking across the floor without them on. When it affects the body embarrassing wet patches appear on clothes. Although typically worse in the summer when the temperature is raised, people with hyperhidrosis also sweat in the winter and when it is colder.
You can hopefully see how these effects on young people not only prevent them from performing everyday tasks we take for granted but can often lead to isolation from not wanting to get involved with many activities, especially ones that highlight the fact that they are sweating heavily.
CAN HYPERHIDROSIS BE TREATED OR CURED?
It cannot be cured but there are several methods to manage the condition and treat the symptoms. The GP can prescribe strong antiperspirants which are applied to the skin at night time so they are effective during the following day.
For the hands, feet and underarms a procedure called iontophoresis is often used. This passes a small electric current through the skin to reduce sweating. This can be started in hospitals, but parents often buy their own for their child to use at home.
When simple measures don’t work, there are other treatments that specialist doctors called dermatologists can provide.
AS A TEACHER, HOW CAN I HELP A CHILD WITH HYPERHIDROSIS?
It is most important to empathise with the child’s situation. Recognise that the child has a medical condition that can affect their ability to undertake everyday tasks including writing, handling paper and using keyboards or touch screens. It is possible that the child has been to school elsewhere and their condition not realised so consequently their self-esteem, school work, attainment and progress has been affected.
If the child has not already seen a doctor or been referred to a dermatologist, then you should encourage the parents to do this.
Because it can be a condition that is somewhat hidden if it only affects the hands and feet, it is unlike many other disabilities. All the staff (teachers, teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors etc) who teach or have contact with the child should be made aware of the condition and the effects it can have on the child.
WHICH PENCILS ARE BETTER?
Pencils with softer graphite are less likely to tear paper when sharpened to a point and move over the paper easier so HB or B grade would be recommended. Mechanical pencils will remove issues that can surround the sharpening process. If erasers are used, it is important to keep the erasing surface dry otherwise it will smudge.
Grips placed over the pencil or pen, or choosing pencils or pens with a built-in grip, will aid use for those with sweating hands.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP WITH WRITING TASKS?
Protection of the paper onto which the child is writing is important to prevent it getting damp. A paper towel or cardboard placed under the hand will help. The environment is important too so ensuring there is a good air flow and ventilation to help remove the moisture form the skin might help; a fan or an open window might be helpful.
There is more chance that the child could ruin work with their wet hands so understanding and some extra time to complete a task could remove the worry for them.
WHAT OTHER ASPECTS OF SCHOOL LIFE MIGHT BE AFFECTED?
If a child’s hands are affected, then it is highly likely their feet will be too. Although sweat itself is odourless, in the confines of shoes and socks, bacteria present on the skin cause smells. This could be noticed by other children. The child may wish to change their socks regularly and if possible, have a second pair of shoes so that they can alternate the pairs giving the other pair a chance to dry out properly. However, given the cost of childrens’ shoes this is not going to be an option for many. Walking across tiled and non-carpeted floor surfaces may cause the child to slip because their feet will be wet, in the same way everyone’s are when they get out of the bath or shower.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CONDITION?
It is helpful for you to learn as much as you can about the condition in order to understand the issues that a child might be dealing with.
Further information and downloadable leaflets can be found elsewhere on this site.
The International Hyperhidrosis Society hosts a site aimed at younger people, Sweat-o-meter: http://www.sweatometer.org/
We hope that you have found this useful. If you have any further questions or suggestions to improve on the information, please contact us on [email protected]