Use of silver preparations to treat infection – Part I

Image via Wikipedia    BW asks:  Have you tried or do you have any experience with Colloidal Silver for treating infections?  I’ve used it a few times and it seems...
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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