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Iontophoresis - How does it work?

Excessive perspiration occurs predominately in those parts of the body with the highest density of eccrine sweat glands, i.e. in the armpits, on hands and feet, and in the face. Cause for this frequently hereditary condition is a malfunction of the sweat glands and the regulating vegetative nervous system. Tap water iontophoresis creates an ion current in the immediate vicinity of the affected sweat glands as well as along the conduction system. After several applications, this ion current significantly reduces the perspiration without causing any damage to the sweat glands.

Iontophoresis is typically used to locally introduce drugs into the skin – hence the term ionto (for ion) and phoresis (for transport). Tap water iontophoresis, on the other hand, does not require the addition of drugs.

Application

Tap water iontophoresis requires a direct current voltage source as well as regular tap water. Two extremities are connected simultaneously with voltage source or electrodes, accordingly, so that current or ions, can flow over the affected skin and body regions. The positively charged ions which have been dissolved in water and in the body migrate to the cathode, the negatively charged ions to the anode accordingly.

Tap water serves as electrically conductive medium between the electrodes and the skin. Its use avoids direct skin contact with the electrodes and thus achieves a greatly homogenous current flow through the skin.

Treatment of hands and feet is facilitated in two basins filled with tap water. A foam insert or a fleece prevent immediate skin contact with the electrodes located in the bottom of the basin. For the treatment of the underarms, two tap water-soaked sponge pouches, containing a small electrode each, are used instead.

Direct Current and Pulsed Current

The current is applied as constant direct current or pulsed direct current (also called pulsed current). These two types of current differ in their therapeutic efficacy as well as in current perception. Direct current is considered more effective and its application results in a speedier therapeutic success. For a person suffering from excessive sweating, direct current is the only choice.

A pulsed current is perceived as being less strong; users can tolerate higher current values. Due to the flow of pulsed current, the therapeutic dose can, however, not be immediately compared with that of direct current. Pulsed current is applied more frequently in particularly sensitive individuals like children, as well as in the so-called maintenance phase (see below).

Basically, both current types have their own use. Many users switch between both operating modes according to the extremity treated and the therapy phase they are currently in. Moreover, the current perception varies from patient to patient. For the treatment to be effective, the current strength just needs to be increased to the point where a slight tingling sensation is perceived.

Duration and Success of Treatment

The application is conducted in individual treatment sessions lasting not more than 10 to 15 minutes each. In the so-called initial phase, perspiration is reduced as much as possible by frequent and periodic applications. To this end, 4 to 5 sessions per week over a period of 4 to 5 weeks are required. Frequently, a first visible sweat reduction is already evident after one week of treatment, if consistently applied.

The sweat reducing effect of tap water iontophoresis is of reversible nature. That is why, following the initial phase, 1 to 2 sessions per week are required permanently to maintain the therapeutic success. In the transition period from initial phase to maintenance phase, the application frequency is incrementally reduced.

In the last decades, tap water iontophoresis has been investigated in many international studies and case series. The therapy is described as being very efficient with minimal side effects; success rates range between 80 and 100%.

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