If you suffer from excessive and uncontrollable sweating, a condition known as hyperhidrosis, you’ve probably investigated various treatments. Stopping the embarrassing and life-altering effects of hyperhidrosis is a daily, never-ending quest. Iontophoresis hyperhidrosis treatments might be the solution for you. If you’ve never heard of iontophoresis therapy, this article will help answer your questions.

Iontophoresis.

Iontophoresis: Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. What is iontophoresis? Who invented it and when?
  • 2. How does iontophoresis therapy work?
  • 3. Does iontophoresis work for hyperhidrosis?
  • 4. How often should I have treatments?
  • 5. When will iontophoresis start working?
  • 6. What areas of the body can be treated with iontophoresis?
  • 7. Can iontophoresis work on my underarms?
  • 8. What is an iontophoresis patch and how does it work?
  • 9. Does iontophoresis hurt?
  • 10. Can I be electrically shocked by iontophoresis?
  • 11. Is the iontophoresis treatment permanent?
  • 12. Are there side effects from iontophoresis?
  • 13. Who performs iontophoresis?
  • 14. Will my insurance pay for iontophoresis?
  • 15. How much do iontophoresis treatments cost?
  • 16. What is the best iontophoresis machine for me?
  • 17. How much will an iontophoresis machine cost and where can I buy one?
  • 18. What if I’m pregnant? (and other iontophoresis contraindications)
  • 19. What other hyperhidrosis treatments can I try?

1. What is iontophoresis? Who invented it and when?

Iontophoresis is a medical procedure which uses a mild electrical current to gently push medications through the skin while the treated body area is submerged in water. You might think of it as an injection without a needle. The procedure is most often used to treat hyperhidrosis or uncontrolled, profuse sweating. It can also be used to treat injuries related to sports by delivering anti-inflammatory medicines directly through the skin.

The idea of using weak electrical energy to deliver medicine dates back to the mid-18th century. Significant progress was made by several researchers in the 19th century and the concept gained serious traction soon after. In the early 1900’s, Dr. Stéphan Leducafter, a French physician, published a series of scientific papers on the subject. Other contributors to the science were Benjamin Ward Richardson, Hermann Munk, William James Morton, and Fritz Frankenhäuser.

Recently, researchers have given iontophoresis a fancy new name: “electrically-assisted transdermal drug delivery.” This is what too many years of education can do. 😉

2. How does iontophoresis therapy work?

Iontophoresis works on the principle of ions. In this instance, the ions are water-soluble substances that carry either a positive or negative charge. Like the poles of a magnet, the positive electrode repels and the negative electrode attracts. By running a mild galvanic (direct) current through a shallow container of water, an ion can be pushed into the skin if the active electrode has the same charge as the target ion. The principle is the same as when two positive ends of a magnet push away from each other when they are placed together. Because the skin is an excellent barrier and protects the body from outside intrusion, iontophoresis has limited value in delivering medications directly into the skin.

Generally speaking, a patient receiving iontophoresis treatment for hyperhidrosis sits with one or both hands or feet immersed in a shallow pan or tray filled with tap water. Normally anticholinergic medicines are placed in the water that block the transmission of nerve signals to the sweat glands. By stimulating the iontophoresis electrodes, the electrical current “pushes” the medication into the skin. Treatments can last from 15 to 40 minutes.

3. Does iontophoresis work for hyperhidrosis?

The short answer is yes. While iontophoresis has limited usefulness in treating other conditions, it can be effective in treating certain types of primary or focal hyperhidrosis. The procedure is routinely used for the treatment of palmar hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the hands) and plantar hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the feet).

4. How often should I have treatments?

Always consult with your doctor before beginning a regimen of iontophoresis treatments. Usually, the process is repeated 3 times a week in the beginning, and until sweating is reduced to the desired degree. Then patients are switched to a schedule of one treatment each week.

To maintain effectiveness, treatments must be consistent and performed regularly before your sweating begins to return.

5. When will iontophoresis start working?

Patience is a virtue. That may not be a comforting thought as you deal with excessive, unrelenting sweating, but it’s important to keep in mind. How long it takes to see results varies significantly from person to person. Some patients report positive results in the first day of treatment. For others, it may require three to four weeks of consistent treatment before the sweating is significantly reduced. Most patients see a discernable difference by the end of the first week. If it’s going to work for you, that’s the benchmark to keep in mind. Long-term improvement is usually achieved after a few weeks of regular treatments.

6. What areas of the body can be treated with iontophoresis?

Iontophoresis has been used to treat hyperhidrosis since the 1940’s. Most medical studies have focused on the procedure for hyperhidrosis of the feet (plantar) and the hands (palmar). Fewer studies have examined hyperhidrosis of the armpits (axillary).

In one year-long study of 27 patients with palmoplantar hyperhidrosis (affecting the hands and feet), there was a “good” response. Desired improvement took from 2 to 4 weeks. In every successful case, ongoing treatment was necessary to maintain dryness. When used correctly, iontophoresis can have a positive effect on 85% to 90% of hyperhidrosis patients.

7. Can iontophoresis work on my underarms?

The evidence collected so far shows that iontophoresis of the underarms might be an effective option for some people. The International Hyperhidrosis Society notes that iontophoresis is generally less effective than other methods for managing underarm sweating. A clinical strength antiperspirant may be more effective in treating excessive underarm sweating.

8. What is an iontophoresis patch and how does it work?

An iontophoresis patch is an electrodynamic patch made from fabric material mingled with photovoltaic cells. Micro-currents are created by the transdermal patch when it comes in contact with the skin. These currents use the iontophoresis principle to suppress the sweat glands from secreting sweat. Iontophoretic patches can be used on hands and feet, but are especially suited for underarm iontophoresis treatments.

A pouch containing a dosage of medication can be attached to an iontophoresis patch which delivers the medication directly through the skin. Iontophoresis dexamethasone is a cortisone-like medication that is often used in conjunction with this treatment. It can provide relief from inflammation and helps prevent unwanted side effects. Sometimes a Diclofenac gel is applied topically to reduce the inflammation.

The ActivaPatch is a self-contained single-use drug delivery patch that contains an electrical source (a battery), electrode and chamber into which desired medicines can be placed. Once adhered to the skin in the desired location, it can provide up to 2.5 hours of iontophoresis treatment.

9. Does iontophoresis hurt?

No, iontophoresis treatments are not known to cause pain. But at the same time, it’s not what you would call “pleasant” either. When performed correctly, the treatment is rarely painful, though many patients report feeling mildly uncomfortable.

You will likely experience a tingling sensation during the process. Be sure you don’t have any open sores or wounds in the area to be treated. The sensation will be much stronger if the current passes through open skin. You can cover any open skin with petroleum jelly to protect it.

10. Can I be electrically shocked by iontophoresis?

You can’t be seriously electrically shocked, but you may feel surprised by the tingling. The voltage of the electrical current used in iontophoresis is low and not strong enough to cause a harmful shock. But if it’s not done correctly, or if you remove your hands or feet from the water during treatment– or if equipment malfunctions– the sensation might be a trifle unexpected. You may temporarily experience minor heel pain during an improper foot treatment, for example. Be sure to remove any metal jewelry beforehand.

As the electrical current is increased, any unpleasant sensation will increase. But you’ll be in control and you’ll be able to decrease the current if the treatment becomes too uncomfortable. It’s a good idea to have another person present during treatments. If you’re using an iontophoresis machine at home, be sure to completely read the manufacturer’s user guide and follow all suggested instructions and precautions.

11. Is the iontophoresis treatment permanent?

No, iontophoresis for hyperhidrosis is not a permanent solution. After the initial treatment period when the desired level of sweat reduction is achieved, maintenance treatments must be continued indefinitely (usually once a week). It is important not to wait until the excessive sweating returns. Permanent hyperhidrosis treatments require more invasive treatments or surgical options.

12. Are there side effects from iontophoresis?

While iontophoresis is a safe and relatively pain-free treatment, some patients may experience some minor adverse effects. The good news is that any side effects are easily alleviated and generally not serious. The most common side effect is itching and drying of the skin. Apply a moisturizing cream or lotion after each treatment to hydrate and soothe dry skin. Other possible side effects include blistering, skin irritation and peeling.

13. Who performs iontophoresis?

Many primary care or family practice doctors can administer the iontophoresis treatments. Some neurologists, internists, and surgeons will also offer the treatment. Seeking out a dermatologist will probably be your best bet.

After initial treatments performed by a qualified physician, it is not uncommon for patients to continue treatments at home with equipment that can be purchased for personal use.

14. Will my insurance pay for iontophoresis?

That depends on your insurance carrier. Sadly, iontophoresis for hyperhidrosis is a treatment that some insurance carriers consider unproven or investigational. If that’s the case for you, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket. Some physicians will allow you to negotiate the cost of treatment if your insurance will not cover it.

15. How much do iontophoresis treatments cost?

Iontophoresis treatments in a doctor’s office will set you back about $150 to $200 per session. Costs can vary significantly depending on the selected practitioner and location. It’s going to cost you more in Los Angeles than in Fargo, North Dakota.

If you decide to administer the treatments yourself after your initial doctor visits, you can purchase your own equipment. When you consider the cost of several treatments at the doctor’s office, this investment can be a cost-saving alternative.

16. What is the best iontophoresis machine for me?

The best machine for your specific condition depends on a lot of variables. Be aware that the manufacturer of any iontophoresis device is going to claim that their machine is the best. Here are important factors to consider when looking to purchase an iontophoresis machine for home use:

  • Affordability – Find a device that works within your budget. You’ll find many that will work.
  • Machine size – If the machine will be used at home, size may not be an issue. If you travel a lot, you’ll want something you can pack and take with you.
  • Safety – Find a machine that has safety features that eliminate the possibility of electrical shock.
  • Timers – The duration of treatments is critical to potential success. An onboard timer will be helpful in making sure treatments aren’t too short or too long.
  • Power source – Some machines are battery powered only. Replacing those batteries can be expensive.
  • Warranty and Service – Choose a machine that includes a warranty (at least 12 months) and be sure the manufacturer offers a user-friendly customer service program.

17. How much will an iontophoresis machine cost and where can I buy one?

A quality iontophoresis machine with basic features should cost somewhere between $500 – $700. If your budget won’t allow for an investment of several hundred dollars, there are low-cost machines available online starting at about $100. Be cautious of low-priced machines, as safety features and build quality may have not been high on the maker’s priority list. Do your research. There are many choices available online, and they can also be purchased from local medical supply brick-and-mortar stores. Also, if you’re handy, it’s fairly simple and easy to build one of your own.

18. What if I’m pregnant? (and other iontophoresis contraindications)

Always consult a doctor before commencing iontophoresis treatments. There are several conditions and situations for which either extra caution or total avoidance of the treatment are necessary.

  • If you wear a pacemaker – The electrical current used in iontophoresis, although mild, may interfere with a pacemaker.
  • Pregnancy – Iontophoresis has not been tested on pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, iontophoresis treatments are not recommended.
  • Metal orthopedic implants – Because electrical current will pass through the parts of the body being treated, any metal implants in those areas can cause problems. Talk to your physician about the treatment if you have any metal implants in your body.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia – Electrical impulses trigger your heart to beat. If you have an irregular heart condition, you should avoid iontophoresis unless your doctor specifically recommends it and supervises the treatment.
  • Skin rash or disease – Iontophoresis therapy should be avoided if a skin rash or skin disease is present in the affected areas.

19. What other hyperhidrosis treatments can I try?

Iontophoresis is considered a tier 3 treatment. That means there are other treatments for hyperhidrosis that are recommended before resorting to the use of an iontophoresis machine.

One of the most effective treatments for hyperhidrosis is a clinical strength antiperspirant like SweatBlock. It is highly effective for controlling underarm sweating, as well as hand, feet, and head sweating. Clinical strength antiperspirants are not expensive, and they’re easy to use, and they’re readily available online and in local drugstores.

There are other hyperhidrosis treatments that may be worth considering. Many are more expensive and more invasive than iontophoresis. These include Botox injections, and using electromagnetic or microwave energy for killing sweat glands. Irreversible surgery is also an option. Once again, talking with a doctor about your specific situation is the best course of action. He or she can prescribe the treatment that best suits you.

The Bottom Line

Iontophoresis is a widely accepted and proven treatment for sufferers of hyperhidrosis. Whether it’s a good treatment for you will depend on the seriousness of your sweating condition and other symptom relief treatments you may have already tried. Now that you have a better understanding of iontophoresis, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about how best to treat your hyperhidrosis. You do have options, and the good news is that there’s a treatment that will likely work well for you. Don’t give up… life can be good again!

hyperhidrosis

Life is short. Nobody should have to spend their days worrying about embarrassing sweaty armpits, sweaty handshakes and other awkward sweat scenarios.

Does excessive sweat ever get you down? Keep you from going out? Or make you feel like you can’t be yourself?

You’re not alone.

In fact, you may be among the 360+ million people worldwide who suffer from an extreme sweating condition called hyperhidrosis.

Many people struggle with hyperhidrosis throughout childhood and well into adulthood without ever knowing they have it.

In this article we’ll explore the symptoms, causes, and possible treatments for hyperhidrosis.

Why Do We Sweat?

We sweat to regulate our body temperature. It’s the body’s natural and healthy way to cool itself.

When body temperature rises, our nervous system will trigger the sweat glands to release extra heat via sweat on the skin surface. Our body temperature fluctuates frequently due to physical activity, weather, wardrobe, diet and common stressors.

Although sweating can be socially destructive, it’s a necessary bodily function that prevents overheating and heat stroke.

what is hyperhidrosis

What is hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis is excessive and uncontrollable sweating. This is the kind of sweating that’s more than what the body needs to cool itself. The word “hyperhidrosis” means too much (hyper) sweating (hidrosis). People with hyperhidrosis produce four to five times more sweat than normal.

Hyperhidrosis is a physiological problem. Those who suffer from it attest that it also messes up their quality of life– psychologically, emotionally and socially. It is a silent handicap. Almost half of those with hyperhidrosis suffer in silence for years before seeking help.

Hyperhidrosis affects nearly 15 million people in the United States. It affects men and women equally. The vast majority of hyperhidrosis sufferers find it embarrassing. 65% experience excessive sweating of the underarms (axillary hyperhidrosis). Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hyperhidrosis.

What causes hyperhidrosis?

Why do some people sweat excessively, uncontrollably and for absolutly no reason? Most types of hyperhidrosis are caused by an over stimulation of the sweat glands. Sweat triggers also include stress or genetic factors. Unrelated health problem or disease trigger another form of the condition. (see below)

Some life changes, such as pregnancy or menopause, can also cause profuse sweating. Yet, many of us experience excessive sweating without these kinds of changes in our lives.

There are two types of hyperhidrosis…

Hyperhidrosis occurs in two major classifications or types; primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary general hyperhidrosis.

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis

This type of hyperhidrosis affects only specific parts of the body where there are high numbers of sweat glands. Primary focal hyperhidrosis usually starts during adolescence, but sometimes earlier. It is usually inherited and is genetic in nature.

There are four main body areas affected by primary hyperhidrosis:

Secondary General Hyperhidrosis

Unlike primary focal hyperhidrosis, secondary hyperhidrosis (also known as generalized hyperhidrosis or diaphoresis) is characterized by excessive sweating all over the body.

General hyperhidrosis can be present from birth or can be caused by an underlying medical condition. Secondary hyperhidrosis can also be a side effect of certain drugs and presciption medications.

If you have one of these medical conditions and experience excessive, full-body sweating, talk to your doctor to see what solutions are available.

Hyperhidrosis Complications

If hyperhidrosis goes unchecked, it can have a negative impact on social life and even lead to minor skin infections.

Social and Emotional

This is the most obvious of hyperhidrosis complications. Sweaty armpits can lead to awkward hugs, embarrassing corporate encounters, and unnecessary stress on high school and college students. A serious case of sweaty underarms can ultimately turn a social butterfly into a cave dwelling hermit.

Sweaty palms can sap one’s confidence and work performance. Slippery equipment, golf clubs, keyboards, and game controllers are just a few of the annoying side effects of excessive hand sweating.

A sweaty face can quickly turn an impressive interview into an awkward distraction. The list goes on and on…

The truth is, hyperhidrosis really stinks (literally and figuratively). The really sad part… most individuals don’t know they have it and never take the proper steps to treat or control it.

Skin Infections

Hyperhidrosis can lead to minor skin conditions like athlete’s foot, jock itch, warts and some serious body odor (bromhidrosis).

Other infections that can be triggered by untreated hyperhidrosis include Dermatophytosis, Pitted Keratolysis, Verruca Plantaris, and Ingrown Toenails.

Underlying Health Conditions

If you think you might have secondary hyperhidrosis, talk to your doctor right away. Secondary hyperhidrosis is often a symptom of other illnesses. Treating the underlying illness often stops the excessive sweating.

If you think you might have primary hyperhidrosis, talk to a dermatologist. Don’t suffer in silence. There are treatments and products that can help. Let’s look at some…

Hyperhidrosis Treatments

There are many treatments that have proven effective in reducing the effects of hyperhidrosis, including antiperspirants, medications, and other advanced procedures.

Prescription Strength and Clinical Strength Antiperspirants

Many doctors prescribe and recommend a strong antiperspirant to treat hyperhidrosis. Clinical strength antiperspirants are effective as a result of their high concentration of aluminum chloride.

Aluminum chloride is the active ingredient in antiperspirant that does the actual sweat blocking. Antiperspirants can be used nearly anywhere on the body to control profuse sweating.

Some clinical strength antiperspirants can control excessive sweating for up to 4 days or more with just one application.

Prescription Hyperhidrosis Creams

Prescription creams and topicals containing glycopyrrolate (also known as glycopyrronium bromide) are useful in treating craniofacial hyperhidrosis or sweating of the face and head. Glycopyrrolate is a compound used to treat ulcers and excessive drooling.

Hyperhidrosis Medications

Some medications taken by mouth block the chemicals that allow certain nerves to communicate with each other. By cutting off nerve communication some people have experienced reduced sweating.

These fall into two main categories: anticholinergics and beta blockers. But, there can be some unwanted side effects by taking these hyperhidrosis pills that include dry mouth, blurred vision and bladder problems. These include medications such as oxybutynin, glycopyrrolate, benztropine and propantheline.

Antidepressants

Some medications prescribed for depression can also decrease sweat gland output. These medicines may also help to decrease the anxiety that worsens hyperhidrosis.

Botox for Hyperhidrosis

Treatment with botulinum toxin (Botox) is a long-term solution that temporarily blocks the nerves that cause sweating.

If you and your doctor opt for botulinum toxin injections, your skin will first be anesthetized. Each affected area of your body will receive several injections to ensure that all the nerves have been treated.

The desired effects can last 6 to 12 months before the treatment must be repeated. While effective, this treatment is painful and some people experience temporary muscle pain in the treated areas.

Iontophoresis

An easy way of understanding this procedure is to think of it as an injection without a needle. It is non-invasive and, uses a small electric current to drive medications through the skin. Iontophoresis is often used to treat palmoplantar hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis Surgery and Other Advanced Treatments

If topical or medications taken by mouth don’t relieve excessive sweating, there are several other possible treatments. These may eliminate or at least greatly improve excessive perspiration. These include hyperhidrosis surgery or other invasive and expensive approaches. All of these must be prescribed by a doctor and administered in a doctor’s office of hospital.

Microwave Therapy

This treatment uses a device that delivers microwave energy to the targeted sweat glands. The procedure requires two 20 to 30 minute sessions, 90 days apart. Microwave therapy is expensive and may not be widely available. Unwanted side effects include a sensation change in the skin and possible discomfort.

miraDry

miraDry is a newer axillary hyperhidrosis treatment that also uses microwave energy to destroy targeted sweat glands. A doctor administers local anesthesia and then uses a hand-held device to suck sweat glands closer to the skin surface. The device then heats and destroys the underarm sweat glands while cooling the top layers of skin. miraDry has proven effective but will leave a considerable dent in your wallet.

Sweat Gland Removal

If profuse sweating is affecting only the armpits, removing the sweat glands may offer a permanent solution. Suction curettage is a minimally invasive procedure. A dermatologist will insert a suction tool into two small incisions. He/she then removes the sweat glands. This is a popular treatment of hyperhidrosis when other remedies fail to produce positive results.

Nerve Surgery (sympathectomy)

This is a procedure in which a surgeon cuts, burns or clamps spinal nerves that control sweating in the hands (palmar hyperhidrosis). Sometimes this treatment causes excessive compensatory sweating in other parts of the body.

Lifestyle Hacks to Help Reduce Effects of Hyperhidrosis

For many who suffer from hyperhidrosis, there are simple tricks that can be effective reducing excessive sweat. Lifestyle and other non-prescription remedies may also be good places to start searching for relief. These are basic, common sense ideas but they’re worth noting.

Bathe / Shower Daily

Regular bathing will help keep skin-borne bacteria in check. When finished, dry thoroughly with a clean towel especially between toes and under the arms. If you don’t have access to a shower, try using cleansing shower wipes.

Go Barefoot to Help Sweaty Feet

If going without shoes and socks isn’t possible, at least slip out of the shoes now and then throughout the day. Give your feet a chance to air out.

Choose Shoes and Socks Made of Natural Materials

Shoes made of leather or natural fabrics can help prevent sweaty feet by allowing your feet to breathe. During periods of high activity or exercise, moisture wicking socks are a good choice.

Wear Light Fabrics and Loose Fitting Clothing

It’s a good idea to wear natural fabrics like cotton, wool or silk. These fabrics allow your skin to breath. When exercising, wear moisture-wicking clothing. Dress in layers to avoid overheating.

Sweat Proof Undershirts

While a sweat proof undershirt won’t stop you from perspiring, it can absorb sweat throughout the day. This creates the perception of dry underarms and can keep embarrassing sweat marks and sweat stains at bay.

Hyperhidrosis Remedies and Natural Treatments

There are many who may prefer a hyperhirosis natural treatment. These include the use of herbs, diet, vitamins, supplements, and relaxation techniques.

Yoga

Practicing yoga can relax the body and reduce stress. Entire routines designed for reducing hyperhidrosis can be found online.

Acupuncture

There are a number of case studies indicating that acupuncture may be effective for some sufferers of primary hyperhidrosis. The duration of the improvement has yet to be determined.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis by a hypnosis practitioner or self-hypnosis have been suggested as alternative treatments. According to first-hand reports, positive results are dubious.

Fitness and hygiene

Regular exercise and avoiding obesity can be key factors in managing hyperhidrosis. Also reduce or eliminate the use of skin lotions and makeup or find natural substitutes.

Diet

Some dieticians recommend a diet of 80% plant-based foods to help control sweating. Along with plant-based (preferably organic) foods, they recommend eliminating MSG, GMOs and all trans fats. If meat is included, eat only small amounts of unprocessed, grass-fed meats. Vitamins B and D can help too.

Herbal Remedies

Advocates of herbal solutions have identified several herbal remedies that reportedly help manage hyperhidrosis. These include Witch Hazel, Sage, Valerian Root, St. John’s Wort, Burdock and Astragalus among others. Many are astringents that shrink skin pores when applied topically. Others exert a positive effect on the endocrine system when taken internally.

Hyperhidrosis Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re one of the estimated 15 million who suffer from hyperhidrosis, you probably have questions. Here are some of the most asked questions regarding excessive sweating and hyperhidrosis.

Do I have hyperhidrosis?

If you experience episodes of excessive sweating that occur at least once a week and for no clear reason you probably have hyperhidrosis. These include night sweats.

What is the best treatment for hyperhidrosis?

Everyone is different and each person will react differently to hyperhidrosis treatments. Depending on the seriousness of your hyperhidrosis symptoms, you’ll want to review the available treatments and decide which is best for you. Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.

Is hyperhidrosis curable?

There is no known cure, no silver bullet for hyperhidrosis. However, many of the treatments described above are effective and can reduce or eliminate symptoms. They can get you feeling good again and functioning more effectively. Life can be better.

There is hope. There are many effective treatments that can reduce or eliminate your hyperhidrosis. Choose the one(s) that are best suited to you and your lifestyle.