Current treatments such as Botox and medications have limitations. But now Chicago is one of the first cities where a device that uses microwaves to solve the problem is being tested.
There are times when a soaking sweat is okay. At Bikram Yoga Chicago, perspiration is as big a part of the work out as the poses. There are many people, however, who break out in a sweat for almost no reason at all.
Excessive sweating can impact jobs, relationships, even self esteem.
"It's embarrassing because, you know, if you are at a party at a business function and something you can't raise your arm," said Mindy Brennan, 42.
Brennan's perspiration problem started just a few years ago. She was ready to try anything to end her soggy misery. And then she found out about the newly FDA-approved MiraDry device through her friend and dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery & Dermatology. It uses electromagnetic energy better known as microwaves to destroy sweat glands under the arm.
"It actually heats up the sweat glands specifically without damaging any of the surrounding tissue. So it's a non-surgical way of eliminating the sweat in the underarms," said Dr. Jacob, one the first doctors in the country to try out the device. "It's revolutionary there is nothing else like it."
Here's how the procedure works. A temporary measurement grid is applied to help guide where the microwaves need to go. A local anesthetic is injected into the treatment area. Then, a handpiece is placed at the marked locations and the treatment begins. It takes about an hour to do both arms and two sessions may be needed.
So how do the microwaves know to destroy only the sweat glands?
"The way that the sweat glands absorb the energy from the MiraDry device is based on the amount of water that's in the sweat gland which is different than the amount of water that's in the surrounding tissue," said Dr. Jacob.
The human body is covered in millions of sweat glands. Experts say only 2 percent are found in the underarm area. So you can eliminate those and still sweat naturally elsewhere.
But for people with severe hyperhidrosis miraDry may not solve the problem.
Dr. Mark Ferguson, a thoracic surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center, performs a more traditional fix to hyperhydrosis. Nerves that feed the sweat glands are cut and sweating is eliminated in areas such as underarms and hands It is a major operation that is a proven fix.
"It's always useful to look for less invasive perhaps less expensive treatments, particularly for patients with mild symptoms," said Dr. Ferguson.
Could MiraDry someday replace conventional techniques? Ferguson says it's still too early to make any assumptions and it appears to have its limits. But a clinical trial found improvement in underarm sweating in 69 percent of patients a year after treatment.
"Some people have no sweating after they have had the treatment done twice," said Dr. Jacob.
One week after the miraDry treatment and Brennan, an active mom, says it was worth it.
"I pretty much don't sweat as much," said Brennan.
Effects are immediate for some. Potential side effects are swelling and localized pain that eventually goes away. The procedure is currently available for a limited number of patients, but the manufacturer says it will be more accessible this fall. Cost is about $3,000 for two treatments. Right now it can be used only in the underarm area.
Dr. Carolyn Jacob
20 West Kinzie
Chicago, IL 60654
Mark K. Ferguson, MD
University of Chicago Medical Center
5841 S. Maryland Avenue, MC 5035
Chicago, IL 60637