15 January 2015

Hyperhidrosis and climbing

Over the years I’ve heard from a few climbers who suffer from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) of the hands. For obvious reasons, the condition is a major hindrance for rock climbing and causes much torment for sufferers who love the activity but are constantly hampered by severely sweaty hands.
I do not have the condition myself, but I definitely have more sweaty hands than average and I find that my indoor climbing performance has always lagged as much as a number grade behind my outdoor climbing grade. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to deal with the condition as a climber, having dripping hands with the slightest exertion. 

Hopefully, most sufferers will already know about iontophoresis, but in case not, I thought I should write this post.

I am grateful to Bob Farrell who got in touch last year to let me know that discovering the treatment had completely transformed his climbing. He went from a state of despair about how to enjoy rock climbing to being able to enjoy good friction and dry hands on small holds, both indoor and outside in warm weather.

The treatment involves passing a small electrical current, supplied by an iontophoresis machine through the hands, for 15-30 minutes or so. The hands (or feet) have to be placed in a water bath to apply the current. Despite its remarkable effectiveness, its mechanism of action is still unknown. But it blocks the sweat glands in some way, temporarily. Several treatments are required to see the benefits, and top-up treatments are needed every few days or weeks (with individual variability) to maintain the effects.

But those effects appear to essentially solve the problem for a great majority of sufferers. Although I have not tried the treatment myself, it sounds from Bob’s experience and the evidence from other non-climbing sufferers, that all affected climbers should definitely try it.

It is available, at least in some places on the NHS. But most sufferers who try the treatment and have good results seem to just purchase their own iontophoresis machine and do their top-up treatments at home. Machines cost £3-400 for a standard model. 

There seem to be few side effects, although if you have cuts in your fingers from climbing, these will burn during the treatment, with the workaround of just excluding the cut finger from the iontophoresis bath during treatment

I hope this post provides some help to sufferers who have yet to hear of the treatment.


Gaz said...

Never tried this but i know Chris Web used it a fair bit.

Matt said...

Iontophoresis worked for me, but it takes a few treatments (~20 minutes per hand) to start working. You can combine it with Antihydral for quicker results.

Also, you can build your own machine for next to nothing with 2 aluminum pans, 2-4 6-volt lantern batteries, and a set of alligator clips. Plus, you get "mad scientist" points. :)