DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son and grandson (now in the Army) are cursed with wet palms. Their hands are always wet. This not only is uncomfortable, but very embarrassing. They are both in positions in which they need to greet people and shake hands. I am sure they are not alone in this problem. – E.B.

Definitely, they are not alone. They belong to the 3 percent of the population who suffer from hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating. Often, as your family proves, it’s a family affair. The sweating can be localized to a single place, like the palms, the soles of the feet or under the arms, or it can be all over the body. Sweating is an important mechanism the body uses to lower temperature. Excessive sweating has no purpose. It comes from overactive nerves that control sweat glands. Sweaty palms make it impossible to hold a piece of paper without ruining it, hard to type on a keyboard and disconcerting to shake hands. Your son and grandson should first try applying an antiperspirant (not a deodorant) containing aluminum to their palms. If commercial antiperspirants don’t work, prescription items with 20 percent aluminum (Drysol is an example) often do. Readers tell me they have had success with medicines like Robinul Forte, but such medicines can have intolerable side effects for some. Botox injections reduce sweating, but palm injections are painful.

They might try devices that deliver a mild electric current to the palms. The current plugs the sweat glands. Palms are placed on moistened pads or in a shallow, water-filled tray and the current is supplied with a battery. One such unit is the Drionic device. The manufacturer’s number is 800-432-5362, and its Web site is Another similar device is the Fischer Galvanic unit. Its manufacturer’s number is 800-525-3467, and its Web site is These devices are somewhat costly.

Should the above prove unsuccessful, severing the nerves in the chest that control sweating through a small incision and with the aid of a scope usually can produce results.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A while back, a nurse in my doctor’s office told me that my blood pressure was 170/72. Upon looking at my chart, the doctor said this couldn’t be right. He started to take it but stopped and said that the cuff was too small. He got a larger one. This time, my pressure was 140/72. This makes me wonder about all my other blood pressure readings. Please explain the discrepancy. – J.M.

There is a rigid protocol for taking blood pressure, but it’s not rigidly observed. The constraints of time and the numbers of patients lead to cutting corners.

Quite important is cuff size. The cuff should cover at least 80 percent of a person’s arm circumference. A too-small cuff overestimates blood pressure.

People scheduled to have their pressure checked should be seated quietly in a chair with their feet on the floor for five minutes. They should not have smoked or taken caffeine in the half-hour prior to taking their pressure.

The arm on which pressure is being taken should be at heart level, supported, and the elbow slightly bent.

Have all your previous pressures been erroneous? Probably not. If they had, the doctor would not have been surprised by your most recent pressure.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please explain what spondylosis is. Two years ago I experienced low-back pain. X-rays were taken, and at the follow-up appointment, he said I had spondylosis. He briefly explained it, with the help of a model spine (show and tell). I couldn’t grasp it all. All I heard was “spondylosis.” I have been troubled with unanswered questions. Does this condition cause deformities? Will the future warrant surgery? – D.S.

ANSWER: “Spondylosis” (SPAWN-duh-LOW-siss) is another name for osteoarthritis of the spine. Osteoarthritis is quite common. Changes in the back can include growth of bone spurs, thickening of ligaments and narrowing of the disks between backbones. If these changes put pressure on nerves or the spinal cord, they can produce pain. They also can narrow the spinal canal, which can irritate the cord and spinal nerves.

Much can be done with physical therapy, exercise and medicines. Surgery is reserved for resistant cases.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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