What is iontophoresis?

Iontophoresis is a procedure wherein an electric current is passed through skin soaked in water. The water used is generally tap water, normal saline (0.9%), or an anticholinergic medication. The currents are supplied to the hands, feet, and other body parts and are not strong enough to produce the effect of an electric shock in the body. 

Uses of iontophoresis:

Some people sweat more than others. While some amount of sweat is pretty normal, excessive sweating can create a lot of problems and be very frustrating at times. Frequent or excessive or constant sweating for no apparent reason can be the cause of a specific condition known as hyperhidrosis disorder.

This sweating can occur in specific conditions like warm weather or excess physical activity, or even without any triggers. Conditions like hyperthyroidism or menopause can also cause excessive sweating and lead to hyperhidrosis. 

Hyperhidrosis disorder and its symptoms can be treated or relieved through the process of iontophoresis. The patients may be required to undergo several iontophoresis sessions every week, each of them lasting for 20 to 40 minutes. From what evidence there is, it is believed that the procedure blocks sweat from escaping from the sweat glands, and therefore, temporarily stops sweating. 

This process can also be used to treat a variety of sports injuries at times. When anti-inflammatory medicines are added to the water used for iontophoresis, it can help with easing heel pain and other soft-tissue injuries. It is with the help of the current that these medications get easily absorbed. 

Iontophoresis is hence great in reducing swelling around the joints and in alleviating pain. it can also work as an effective treatment for sprains or bursitis, or to treat a fungal infection of the nail plate or infections due to resistant microorganisms using silver ions. 

The Modern Iontophoresis Machine For Hyperhidrosis - RA Fischer Co.
Image from rafischer.com

Iontophoresis as a remedy for Hyperhidrosis

How exactly does current help in treating the sweating condition of hyperhidrosis is still unknown? Some popular theories as to how a change in the electrical gradient reduces sweat production are: 

  1. The current disrupts normal sympathetic nerve transmission.
  2. Ions produced by iontophoresis blocks the sweat ducts in the stratum corneum. 
  3. Due to an accumulation of hydrogen ions, the pH in the sweat glands drops.

Iontophoresis for a sports injury

This process is performed at a doctor’s office. Anti-inflammatory medication is added to a water basin, and the injured area is placed in the water by the person undergoing the treatment. After this, a mild electrical current is passed through the water, and it isn’t painful. 

These sessions last for around 10 to 15 minutes, and you might be prescribed to undergo a few of them every week. 

The procedure can also result in some side effects, though nothing very severe. Dryness of skin, blisters, peeling, or irritation might be experienced by some people. However, these side effects are easily treatable and a normal soothing moisturizer after every session can be of great help. 

Iontophoresis for cancer

Some iontophoretic devices have shown promising results in preclinical as well as clinical studies for retinoblastoma (a kind of eye cancer), skin, bladder as well as pancreatic cancers. 

Iontophoretic chemotherapy treatment can help in reducing the side effects of drugs.

what is iontophoresis

Side effects and risks associated with iontophoresis

Iontophoresis is generally a safe procedure. 

Some common effects experienced by people include a burning sensation or a feeling of needles in the body, which is because of the use of electric current. Some people can even experience severe effects like redness of the skin, dryness of skin (dermatitis), blisters, etc. 

These side effects, however, are not long-lasting and are expected to disappear within a few days. For this purpose, moisturizers or special creams can be quite effective and must be applied a few times daily. 

Some drugs can even produce systemic side effects like dizziness, dry mouth, and eyes, etc. 

Also, it is important to note that any direct contact of the skin with electrodes must be avoided during treatment since it can result in a mild electric shock. 

Effectiveness of the procedure

A certain number of prescribed sessions of iontophoresis can help reduce sweating to a desirable level and hence treat hyperhidrosis. The number of sessions per week also decreases as the results keep becoming better. 

However, if discontinued in the middle, sweating might even increase and hence, it is important to perform these sessions regularly. 

For healing sports injuries, the sessions work only until the injury begins to heal. 5-10 minutes sessions for a week or two can produce beneficial results in this regard. After the conclusion of the sessions, rest, proper nutrition, and physical therapy can be performed to aid the process of healing. 

Points to remember

If you’re planning to undergo iontophoresis for any reason, make sure to consult your doctor if you:

  1. Are pregnant
  2. Are undergoing any heart conditions
  3. Have a pacemaker or any other metal implants, artificial joint replacements, etc.
  4. Have epilepsy

You might be advised not to undergo iontophoresis if you are going through any of the above medical conditions, since the use of current might have some kind of adverse effects on your body. This is why consulting a doctor is highly essential before undergoing any treatment. 

Also, before beginning any session, you can apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to any cuts or scratches on your skin. This will prevent your cuts or wounds to be affected during the treatment. Adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the water beforehand can also be beneficial in regulating the pH level of the water and ensures the effectiveness of the treatment. 

This is all about iontophoresis. We hope this article helps you understand various aspects of this procedure, how can it help, its side effects, benefits, and every important thing that you need to know. As we have already discussed, you must visit your doctor if you are undergoing any medical conditions. If this is to be performed at home, you must also take care to perform all necessary precautions so that you can avoid any kinds of side effects.