Soaking Night Sweats Are Daily Torment

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This year I retired, at age 66. Since retirement I’ve been tormented with drenching sweats nightly. I mention the retirement because it’s the only thing in my life that has changed. Could there be a connection? I have to change my pajamas every night, and sometimes the bed linens. I feel well otherwise. I will appreciate anything you can tell me. — D.D.

ANSWER: You and your doctor have to look for the rare but serious causes of night sweats. In the past, infections were the major cause, and tuberculosis headed the list of infectious causes. That’s no longer true. Diabetes, an overactive thyroid gland and cancers — especially lymphomas (lymph node cancers) — are other possible causes. It’s most unusual for night sweats to be the only sign of such illnesses. I can’t link your retirement to the problem.

Have you taken your temperature at night? A normal temperature points to causes that are less indicative of something that has health consequences.

Medicines might provoke sweating. Antidepressants, some of the diabetes medicines and thyroid hormone are examples. Aspirin resets the body’s thermostat. When its effect begins to wear off, profuse sweating can result.

The following tips for controlling sweating are banalities, but they’re always mentioned. The heat and humidity of the bedroom have to be on the low side. Humidity of less than 40 percent is optimum.

If sweating is confined to a particular body area, like the palms and soles, the face or the underarms, you have more treatment options. For generalized sweating, the choices are not as plentiful. Fans and air conditioners are another banal solution, but they often work. Some have found that Robinul (glycopyrrolate) or ProBanthine, each taken 45 minutes before going to bed, stop the production of excessive sweats.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can you give us some information on adult drooling? My husband, 87, is normal in all other ways, but cannot control his drooling. He won’t leave the house because of it. — E.K.

ANSWER: With aging, we have less-effective swallowing mechanisms. In our younger years, saliva is constantly, automatically and imperceptibly swallowed throughout the day. At older ages, it stays in the mouth, and its only exit is through the lips.

A second cause of drooling is the sagging of tissues around the mouth, another consequence of aging. The lips and mouth tissues cannot hold saliva in the mouth like they used to.

Readers have made good suggestions on how to combat this problem. R.M. suggests applying a dab of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream to the corners of the lips to create a dam that blocks saliva overflow. Vaseline works too.

Robinul (glycopyrrolate) and scopolamine, the patch used for prevention of seasickness, slow the production of saliva. But they can have other unpleasant side effects that make them less useful for this purpose.

Botox injections diminish saliva volume. Doctors can tie off some of the salivary ducts to achieve the same end. Start with the dam-building technique. It has no side effects and is inexpensive.

Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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