What is iontophoresis?

Iontophoresis is a procedure in which an electrical current is passed through skin soaked in tap water (not distilled water), normal saline (0.9%), or a solution containing an anticholinergic medication, which allows ionised (charged) particles to cross the normal skin barrier. It reduces sweating and enhances the delivery of drugs and macromolecules into and through the skin. It is safe, effective and inexpensive.

Iontophoresis for palmoplantar hyperhidrosis

Iontophoresis for palmar hyperhidrosis
Iontophoresis for plantar hyperhidrosis

What is iontophoresis used for?

The main use of iontophoresis is to treat focal areas of excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), particularly on the palms or soles. Tap-water iontophoresis is less effective in the axilla. Limited robust data is available; some studies suggested that up to 80–85% of patients with palmar hyperhidrosis notice a subjective improvement in their symptoms within 2–4 weeks. One study of tap-water iontophoresis showed 33% improvement on the soles and 37.5% in the axillae after 14 days, which increased to 78%, and 75% respectively over 20 days.

Iontophoresis has also been successfully used to deliver drugs to the skin in order to:
  • Reduce sweating further using an anticholinergic agent such as glycopyrronium or botulinum toxin A.
  • Anaesthetise an area of skin with lignocaine.
  • Treat fungal infection of the nail plate (onychomycosis).
  • Eradicate infection due to resistant micro-organisms using silver ions
  • Treat bursitis or tendonitis with anti-inflammatory drugs.

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