Donald Trump is not easing up on Marco Rubio’s sweating. After the Republican presidential debate this week, he mocked Rubio’s perspiration and said the country doesn’t need a president who sweats so much. “We have to have somebody that doesn’t sweat,” Trump said on CNN. Yet for many, excessive sweating is a medical condition — and Trump’s jabs are anything but funny. We originally published this article on Feb. 11 but are resurfacing it after Trump’s recent comments.
Marco Rubio sweats. Perhaps you’ve noticed — and if you haven’t, Donald Trump wants to make sure you do.
“I like Marco, but Marco has a tendency to sweat. Perhaps at a record-setting level,” Trump said this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” one of countless times the Republican presidential candidate has drawn attention to the Florida senator’s heavy perspiration.
“They said to Marco Rubio ‘Are you having fun?’ He’s sweating like a pig,” Trump told a rally in Norcross, Ga., in the fall. “I never saw a guy sweat like this. The sweat is pouring down.”
Around the same time, Rubio’s campaign staff received a package of water and towels reportedly delivered by Trump’s campaign. “Since you’re always sweating, we thought you could use some water. Enjoy!” said a note accompanying the package.
Perhaps funny, except excessive sweating is actually a medical condition. Whether Rubio has it beyond the scope of this inquiry — his spokesman declined to comment and doctors said the senator could simply be the victim of wearing a suit and tie in Florida, or sometimes simply suffer from running slightly hot under studio lighting.
But people who actually suffer from the rare condition, known as hyperhidrosis, say it’s very real, and they have cringed at Trump’s taunts.
“It reminds me of so many sufferers who get bullied in school,” said Lisa J. Pieretti, cofounder and executive director of the International Hyperhidrosis Society, in Charleston, S.C. “It’s debilitating how embarrassed someone is when they have this.”
A candidate’s perspiration has been fair game in national politics ever since Richard M. Nixon’s sweaty face haunted the first televised presidential debate with John F. Kennedy nearly six decades ago. But Trump’s caustic attacks seem to sting a bit more for the roughly 6 million Americans who suffer from hyperhidrosis.
Dr. Michael Lanuti, a thoracic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said he has treated businesspeople who cannot shake hands, crime scene investigators who can’t work with gloves, and security agency personnel whose sweating makes it difficult to use fingerprint scanners.
The condition often strikes first during adolescence, with sweating typically localized on the underarms, feet, and hands. Only about 15 percent of people with hyperhidrosis sweat from the face and scalp.
“They’re really embarrassed,” said Lanuti. “They can’t be productive, they can’t have relationships. For women especially, it plays with their minds.”
Sophia Z. Wastler, who owns a children’s fitness company in Richmond, Va., remembers leaving her elementary school homework covered with perspiration. Eventually she resorted to carrying napkins and wearing jeans to school so she could wipe her hands frequently.
“It really affected my self-esteem,” she said. “As a teenager trying to find your way in the world, the last thing you need is something else to be anxious about.”
Full-body hyperhidrosis can actually signal a life-threatening condition like cancer or diabetes. But the underlying causes of localized hyperhidrosis are almost a black box. Researchers understand that nerves controlling sweat glands switch on at random, rather than in response to heat or other conventional triggers.
“But we can’t figure out why people have it,” Lanuti said.
Treatments run the gamut, from topicals to oral medications. More extreme options include a sympathectomy, in which surgeons cut the so-called sympathetic nerve controlling the sweat glands.
There is a significant downside to the procedure, which isn’t effective for all patients: Even when patients stop sweating from the targeted locations, roughly 80 percent will sweat heavily from other body areas after surgery. Still, they often consider the surgery a success, Dr. Lanuti said.
“You have to understand the limits of the procedure,” he said. “It’s a careful discussion.”
Dr. Daryll Baker, a surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in London who has published research around the various treatments for hyperhidrosis, said a combination of treatments is often the best approach. He said some of his roughly 500 patients suffering from hyperhidrosis would also likely benefit from psychological counseling.
“The problem is that although psychologists say they can help, only 10 percent would actually show up for a session,” he said. “People are so socially self-conscious about it, they’re not prepared to face it.”