Use of silver preparations to treat infection – Part I

systemic argyria from ingestion of colloidal s...
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BW asksHave you tried or do you have any experience with Colloidal Silver for treating infections?  I’ve used it a few times and it seems to work, particularly topically, and I’ve talked to many who swear by it.

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Ever since my medical career began 25+ years ago, silver sulfadiazine cream (Silvadene) has been a mainstay of burn treatment.  The cream is available only by prescription, but comes in an inexpensive generic form.  It helps prevent infection within an acute wound, and has the additional advantage of not stinging.  The cream is slippery and helps the dressing not stick to the wound.  I have patients apply it to a Telfa pad or gauze, then apply the dressing to the open sore.   Although silver-containing wound dressings exist, I have never used them.

Doctors also use silver nitrate to cauterize granulation tissue.  This turns the tissue black, usually for a short time, but occasionally the staining may persist.  The next picture shows a hand stained by silver nitrate.

A hand stained black by silver nitrate, 17 hou...

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 The first question about silver is:  does it work?  Studies have proven that silver is effective against a wide variety of bacteria (in test tube studies).  Silver preparations are used topically to prevent (as opposed to treat)  infections in open wounds, although I expect it would be effective  for a quite superficial infection.  Once redness has started spreading beyond the edges of the wound, an oral antibiotic is usually needed.  For the most part, doctors use silver sulfadiazine for acute wounds, less than a few weeks old.  Its use in older wounds is under investigation. 

Secondly, is it safe?  In 25+ years of using silver sulfadiazine cream I can’t remember ever seeing a problem with topical use.  Certainly it’s possible for a patient to be allergic, as they may be to any metal.  In that case, application of the cream would likely cause itchy, red, bubbly skin, much like poison ivy.  However, an allergic reaction is possible with any antibiotic ointment or cream.

Taking colloidal silver internally is another matter.  To my knowledge, I’ve never had a patient ingest colloidal silver, so am now relying on the word of experts.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Colloidal silver isn’t considered safe or effective for any of the health claims manufacturers make. Nor is it an essential mineral, as some sellers of silver products claim.”  (

Taken internally, colloidal silver can build up in the skin and other tissues, resulting in argyria, a bluish-gray or silver discoloration which is irreversible, even when the product is discontinued.  Notice the grayish-silver discoloration on the man’s face below.  Rarely serious health problems may occur, including seizures, kidney damage, or drug interactions.  From what I can tell, there is no reason to take colloidal silver internally.  

systemic argyria from ingestion of colloidal s...

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Using it on skin wounds is another matter.  Prior to the introduction of silver sulfadiazine cream, colloidal silver was used externally and is probably equally safe and effective.  In the absence of modern preparations, I would consider it a reasonable alternative to antibiotic creams and ointments.  Of course, with Bacitracin available inexpensively over-the-counter, stocking up now is a great idea.  Unopened, Bacitracin ointment is likely safe for years beyond the printed expiration date.  Doctors like Bacitracin better than Triple Antibiotic Cream because Bacitracin is less likely to cause a skin allergy. 

Silver Nevada's nickname is the Silver State
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If you are interested in stocking up on silver sulfadiazine, ask your doctor for a tube next time you see him.  He may or may not comply, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  I am not a chemist and do not know how to compound colloidal silver.  To be effective, the silver must be available as “the monovalent cation Ag+ in aqueous solutions,” per the article referenced below.  For 2012 stockpiling, I’d look to a commercial preparation.


Anyone interested in reading more can visit the link below, which lists 53 additional references. 

Exploring the Effects of Silver in Wound Management – What is Optimal?

Richard White, PhD; Keith Cutting, MN, RN, Dip N, Cert Ed

Wounds. 2006;18(11):307-314. © 2006 Health Management Publications, Inc.

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THIS ARTICLE generated lots of interest, so please see Part II for an excerpt of a medical article on the subject.

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
This entry was posted in Antibacterial topical, Bacitracin, Colloidal silver, Medical archives, Silver sulfadiazine, Skin infection, Stockpiling medical supplies, Stockpiling medications, Triple antibiotic ointment and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Use of silver preparations to treat infection – Part I

  1. janice says:

    Cindy, would like to respond to the Colloidal Silver. My family have been using this for many years about 10 years. We actually manufacture the liquid and sell it. Ours is an Ionic form, very small particles that will not cause you to turn blue/gray. Yes, we take it internally, we never ever take flu shots and we have not had the flu in many many years. If we feel a symptom coming we start taking it. It is amazing. We use it on our babies for ear infections by putting into the ear and giving it orally. We use it in our eyes, in our ears, in a nebulizer for the chest, spray it into out nose, use it on our pets. I swear by it. Many that get it from us say it is the best. It is not just an anti-bacterial but it is also anti-viral and anti-fungal. We have used it for bladder infections, poison ivy, burns, it’s works great for food poisoning. I could go on and on……..and you what we are not blue and we are very well! By the way I met you Cindy at the meeting in Franklin, TN. last Sunday Jan. 26 2013. Would love to make you classes in March.

    [Doc Cindy replies: some useful articles on this topic, from PubMed]

    Curr Probl Dermatol. 2006;33:17-34.
    Silver in health care: antimicrobial effects and safety in use.
    Lansdown AB.

    Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK.

    Silver has a long and intriguing history as an antibiotic in human health care. It has been developed for use in water purification, wound care, bone prostheses, reconstructive orthopaedic surgery, cardiac devices, catheters and surgical appliances. Advancing biotechnology has enabled incorporation of ionizable silver into fabrics for clinical use to reduce the risk of nosocomial infections and for personal hygiene. The antimicrobial action of silver or silver compounds is proportional to the bioactive silver ion (Ag(+)) released and its availability to interact with bacterial or fungal cell membranes. Silver metal and inorganic silver compounds ionize in the presence of water, body fluids or tissue exudates. The silver ion is biologically active and readily interacts with proteins, amino acid residues, free anions and receptors on mammalian and eukaryotic cell membranes. Bacterial (and probably fungal) sensitivity to silver is genetically determined and relates to the levels of intracellular silver uptake and its ability to interact and irreversibly denature key enzyme systems. Silver exhibits low toxicity in the human body, and minimal risk is expected due to clinical exposure by inhalation, ingestion, dermal application or through the urological or haematogenous route. Chronic ingestion or inhalation of silver preparations (especially colloidal silver) can lead to deposition of silver metal/silver sulphide particles in the skin (argyria), eye (argyrosis) and other organs. These are not life-threatening conditions but cosmetically undesirable. Silver is absorbed into the human body and enters the systemic circulation as a protein complex to be eliminated by the liver and kidneys. Silver metabolism is modulated by induction and binding to metallothioneins. This complex mitigates the cellular toxicity of silver and contributes to tissue repair. Silver allergy is a known contra-indication for using silver in medical devices or antibiotic textiles.

    Crit Rev Microbiol. 2012 Aug 28. [Epub ahead of print]
    Silver as an antimicrobial: Facts and gaps in knowledge.
    Maillard JY, Hartemann P.

    Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University , Cardiff , UK.

    Silver has been used for centuries. Today, silver and silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are used in a wide range of healthcare, food industry, domiciliary applications, and are commonly found in hard surface materials and textiles. Such an extensive use raises questions about its safety, environmental toxicity and the risks associated with microbial resistance and cross-resistance. If the mechanisms of antimicrobial action of ionic silver (Ag(+)) have been studied, there is little understanding of AgNPs interactions with microorganisms. There have been excellent reviews on the bacterial resistance mechanisms to silver, but there is a paucity of information on resistance to AgNPs. Silver toxicity and accumulation in the environment has been studied and there is a better understanding of silver concentration and species in different environmental compartments. However, owing to the increased applications of silver and AgNPs, questions remain about the presence and consequences of AgNPs in the environment. This review provides an historical perspective of silver usage, an overview of applications, and combined information of microbial resistance and toxicity. Owing the evidence provided in this review, a call for a better understanding and control of silver usage, and for tighter regulations of silver and AgNPs usage is proposed.

  2. Pingback: Use of silver preparations to treat infection - Part II | Armageddon Medicine

  3. tracy says:

    (This comment from Tracy, but please see “Use of silver preparations Part II” – the FDA advises against oral ingestion of colloidal silver – ed.)The consensus I reached about colloidal silver was this: all the instances of people developing argyria were people who took it daily or habitually. Not topically for infections or earaches, etc. Not when taken internally for other illnesses. My conclusion was this: seems safe on a case by case basis, when ill or injured, but NOT as a daily/ monthly preventive measure. To quote wikipedia: “only chronic ingestion or inhalation of silver preparations leads to an accumulation of silver in the human body that can cause argyria.”
    This seems prudent because anything taken in great excess will lead to illness. Plus, take into account the ppm. Drinking a few teaspoons when you’re sick for a week is vastly different from drinking a glassful every day for years or decades.

  4. Josh says:

    Dr. Koelker,

    Thank you for the article, but you need to do more research on Colloidal Silver. Silver salts cause Argyria, not true colloidal silver. Please do more research on the subject, you can start here, a scientific colloidal silver research site:

    • Dr. Koelker says:

      Thanks for the link, Josh.

      The brochure that Dr. Gibbs offers at this web site is quite informative and highlights the complexity of the issue. It speaks to bacterial kill-rates in test-tubes. Dr. Gibbs points out that commercial preparations of colloidal silver may be poorly standardized, with various sizes of particles, and may contain dissolved silver, bacteria, and other contaminants. Extrapolating to bacterial killing in the human body is quite difficult.

      I’ve excerpted a scientific article on the subject in Part II of this article. Note, the authors do attribute this particular case of argyria to ingestion of colloidal silver.

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