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How do the Sweat Glands Work?

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  • Written By: Kathy Heydasch
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The nervous system and bodily hormones combine forces to regulate and control sweat glands, which are located virtually all over the body below the surface of the skin. Sweat glands have evolved as a primary method of cooling for humans. Increased physical activity causes a person’s body temperature to increase, and humans do not have a mechanism like panting to assist in cooling down. Instead, the body relies on sweat glands to secrete a clear, potentially odorous substance onto the surface of the skin in order to reduce the body temperature.

Sweat glands operate by secreting a substance comprised mostly of water, sodium chloride and electrolytes. Sweat, also called perspiration, is produced by the gland and then discharged onto the surface of the skin through a small tube leading to a pore. A pore is an opening on the surface of the skin, and the human body has thousands of pores through which sweat escapes.

Eccrine sweat glands are by far the most common in the human body, and exist in primates only. They are found nearly all over the body and have evolved in conjunction with the development of hairless skin in humans. These sweat glands are found in the highest concentrations on the scalp, the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands.

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Apocrine sweat glands are located in the canals where hair follicles exist, so they are found in areas like the armpits and pubic region. They begin secreting around puberty, and the secretion can be cloudy instead of clear like normal sweat. These secretions are known to contain pheromones, which are chemicals that can alter hormonal balances in other people. The exact relationship between apocrine sweat glands and their affect on hormones in the body is not fully known.

There are other glands that are similar to sweat glands, but they secrete very different substances. Mammary glands are considered to be a type of sweat gland that produces milk. Ceruminous glands are located in the ear and produce ear wax.

Excessive sweating can lead to dehydration. With extreme exertion or heat, the body’s eccrine glands can secrete in excess of three liters of fluid per hour. Therefore, it is vital to replenish these fluids as soon as possible. In addition, electrolytes from the body’s plasma can be removed during vigorous sweating episodes. Anyone who is sweating profusely for extended periods must replenish the water and electrolytes, commonly through beverages supplemented with electrolytes.

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surfNturf
Post 7

It makes sense that the sweat glands are tied to a women’s hormones because that really would explain why some women experience hot flashes and episodes of excessive sweating at night when they are going through menopause.

Since the hormonal levels in women are being significantly reduced during this time some women wake up drenched in sweat. They say that often there are triggers in a menopausal woman that will cause these results. I read that stress increases the likelihood of this happening. It must be really uncomfortable to wake up drenched in sweat like that.

Izzy78
Post 6

Although someone may have a problem with their sweat glands it is very rare for someone to completely lack sweat glands or even just in parts of their body.

Most of the time when people get over heated they simply are either out of shape, do not have the endurance to take whatever type of activity they just went through, or they simply pushed themselves way too hard in too hot of weather. Most of the time sweat glands are not the problem.

People that do lack sweat glands, say around the groin or under their arms, do not usually have endurance problems, they simply have bad skin problems in those areas. Not sweating in those areas may affect their

endurance slightly, but not enough to cause a major problem.

People that have over active sweat glands can also be susceptible to heat related problems because their body requires them to sweat a lot in order to cool down. Not just lacking sweat glands is a problem.

jcraig
Post 5

@kentuckycat - There are some disorders that are the cause of problems with the sweat glands.

Sweat glands serve a specific function and can fail just like other things inside the human body. I do not know the name but there is a disorder where someone lacks sweat glands under their arms or around their groin. This can cause major problems for the person in the areas and can greatly affect the skin.

This is the only condition that I am aware of where someone lacks sweat glands, but I am sure that there are several other types of disorders that affect in a similar way and there are people that lack a significant amount of sweat glands necessary in order to live a normal life.

kentuckycat
Post 4

@titans62 - As far as your assessment goes on animals like dogs you are correct. There are many animals that lack necessary sweat glands to be able to excrete sweat to cool them down. This is the exact reason why they say to never lock a dog in a car with the windows up.

As far as your statement about people lacking sweat glands goes, I have never heard of such a thing and feel that there are probably several other factors that go into someone becoming over heated, such as their endurance and their size. If they are a big person and have large body mass it would put them at a higher risk of becoming over heated.

Lacking sweat glands could be a problem for some people but I am unsure exactly what type of problem this is or how common it is.

titans62
Post 3

I have heard that a lot of animals, like dogs, do not have sweat glands and that is why they can get over heated very easily.

I have also heard that a lot of people that have a problem and become over heated very easily have a lack of sweat glands. I am wondering if there is any truth to this at all or if this is just an old wives tale that has been told to me.

honeybees
Post 2

I know that there are a lot of sweat glands in our feet, but my sister has always had sweaty feet.

When she gets excited or nervous her feet will sweat even more than usual. I suppose this is not much different than someone who has sweaty hands when they are anxious.

She has tried several different products to control this. Having such sweaty feet like this can create a real problem with foot odor. Sometimes she is afraid to take off her shoes when she is not in her home.

It has nothing to do with not being clean or not showering often enough. She told me a few weeks ago that she was looking into having some acupuncture done to help with the problem.

julies
Post 1

My husband works outside all year long and in the summer his sweat glands really get a workout. We have hot summer temperatures with high humidity, so sometimes you feel like you start sweating as soon as you get out of the shower.

He has to drink a lot of water all day long to make up for what his body is using up when he is doing so much sweating.

Even when he gets home he will continue drinking lots of water. One of the fastest ways to get heat stroke is to not drink enough water when you are outside and doing a lot of sweating.

His clothes will be completely drenched in sweat. I know he doesn't have excessive sweat glands because he doesn't sweat profusely when he is not working outside in the heat.

Sometimes his arms will be covered in a white film which is salt his sweat glands have produced.

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