Use of silver preparations to treat infection – Part II


The first post on use of silver preparations generated so many questions and comments that I decided a second post was in order. 

The important questions are:

1.  Are silver preparations effective if applied as wound dressings?

2.  Are they effective and safe taken internally?

3.  At TEOTWAWKI can I use Granny’s silver spoon to cure my own pneumonia?



1. In Part I I discussed the use of silver sulfadiazine for burn wounds and other acute wounds.  It is safe and effective for short term use for the prevention of bacterial wound infection.  Silver-impregnated or silver-treated dressings are also effective, but probably no more so than silver sulfadiazine cream.  Your doctor may be willing to supply you with the cream, but is unlikely to be familiar with the dressings, which are costlier as well.

2.  The FDA has concluded that the risk of taking oral silver preparations outweighs any potential benefits.  Argyria has been documented with intake of a home-prepared colloidal silver preparation (see pictures below).  Taking large doses of colloidal silver may also damage the bone marrow, cause seizures, or lead to coma.  Many colloidal silver preparations are poorly standardized and may contain contaminants including bacteria and dissolved silver.  (And if bacteria grow in a silver preparation, how effective would that preparation be to fight infection?)

3.  NO (see #2), but apparently it is possible to make your own colloidal silver preparation at home.  However, determining the concentration and purity would be a great challenge.  If no other option were available, perhaps a commercial or home-prepared suspension for topical use might be reasonable.  Just because a colloidal metal can kill bacteria does not make it safe to ingest – lead kills bacteria, too – along with people. 


What would I do myself?  At least for now my answer remains the same:  I’d stock up on silver sulfadiazine.  A 50-gm tube costs $4 at Wal-Mart (or 3 tubes for $10).  Although it comes in a larger jar as well, smaller unopened tubes would store better.  This cream is available only by prescription, but your doctor may be willing to prescribe it for you.  Another alternative is the OTC bacitracin cream/ointment, the same medication doctors and hospitals use, which probably works equally well externally for prevention of wound infection and treatment of superficial infections.  See also How to get your doctor to help you stockpile medicine.

Silver Nevada's nickname is the Silver State
Image via Wikipedia


The article below comes from the Department of Dermatology, University of California Davis.  It discusses the safety and effectiveness in greater detail, as well as dosing that is known to cause argyria (and death).

For the interested reader, here are the articles they reference:

1. Hill WR, Pillsbury DM. Argyria, The Pharmacology of Silver. 1st edn. The Williams and Wilkins Co. 1939.

2. Kaye ET. Topical antibacterial agents. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2000 Jun;14(2):321-39. Review. PubMed

3. Farmer ER, Hood AF. Pathology of the Skin. 2nd edn. Appleton & Lange. 2000;507-508.

4. Chemistry: webElements Periodic Table: Professional Edition: Silve:key information. Last accessed 02/01/05.

5. Fung MC, Bowen DL. Silver products for medical indications: risk-benefit assessment. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1996;34(1):119-26. Review. PubMed

6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Risk Information System.Silver (CASRN 7440-22-4). Last accessed 2/01/05.

7. Blumberg H, Carey TN. Argyremia: Detection of unsuspected and obscure argyria by the spectrographic demonstration of high blood silver. JAMA. 1934;103(20):1521-1524.

8. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Statement for Silver, December 1990. Last accessed 02/01/05.

9. Abundance of the chemical elements in man’s diet and possible relations with environmental factors. Hamilton, E.I. and M.J. Minski. 1972/1973. Sci. Total Environ. 1: 375-394.

10. Furst A, Schlauder MC. Inactivity of two noble metals as carcinogens. J Environ Pathol Toxicol. 1978 Sep-Oct;1(1):51-7. PubMed

11. Gaul LE, Staud AH. Clinical spectroscopy. Seventy cases of generalized argyrosis following organic and colloidal silver medication. JAMA. 1935;104:1387-1390.

12. Ohbo Y, Fukuzako H, Takeuchi K, Takigawa M. Argyria and convulsive seizures caused by ingestion of silver in a patient with schizophrenia. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 1996 Apr;50(2):89-90. PubMed

13. Moss AP, Sugar A, Hargett NA, Atkin A, Wolkstein M, Rosenman KD. The ocular manifestations and functional effects of occupational argyrosis. Arch Ophthalmol. 1979 May;97(5):906-8. PubMed

14. Schlotzer-Schrehardt U, Holbach LM, Hofmann-Rummelt C, Naumann GO. Multifocal corneal argyrosis after an explosion injury. Cornea. 2001 Jul;20(5):553-7. PubMed

15. Pariser RJ. Generalized argyria. Clinicopathologic features and histochemical studies. Arch Dermatol. 1978 Mar;114(3):373-7. PubMed

16. Over-the-counter drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Public Health Service (PHS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Final rule. Fed Regist. 1999 Aug 17;64(158):44653-8. PubMed

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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, Colloidal silver, Expired meds, Medical archives, Silver sulfadiazine, Stockpiling medical supplies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Use of silver preparations to treat infection – Part II

  1. Renee says:

    I don’t agree that the risks outweigh the benefits! That’s another suppression of home remedies imo. Very few get Argyria and those are people that have taken it daily for a long time. For temporary healing, it’s fabulous, especially for infected wounds. Everyone should have a bottle on hand but make sure it’s an ionic formula, the shelf life is longer and it’s more absorbable by your body.

  2. pa4ortho says:

    In the kitchen, assuming pharmacy is not available, baking soda would be a better choice for heartburn.

  3. JLyo says:

    With regard to the internal use of colloidial silver (AG+) I would expect the symptoms of exposure to other heavy metals to accompany it’s prolonged use. With the added benefit of possibly looking like a smurf (argyria) I agree that the risks outweigh any possible benefit.

  4. b wallace says:

    Doc: Glad to see your recent posting on SurvivalBlog. I really liked the article on otc meds and the last one, Zantac, caught my eye. I stockpile commercial meds, but I also try lots of natural things. Have you heard of using white or cider vinegar for heartburn and other acidic problems (reflux)? Usually relief happens before your taste buds have reacted to the vinegar. I’ve used it, my wife and several friends, as well.

    • I have not tried vinegar for heartburn, but find similar advice on several non-medical websites. On the medical sites I can’t find a confirmation that this should work.

      My acid-base chemistry is a bit rusty (a lot rusty, really), but a weak acid like vinegar may be able to partially neutralize (or at least dilute) a stronger one like hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). Of course, water can dilute acid as well, but since pH is a logarithmic function, diluting stomach acid 50:50 with water doesn’t make that much difference. Maybe I should just buy some hydrochloric acid and try it out. Any chemists out there are invited to contribute.

    • Yes, I have heard of using vinegar for heartburn. On a chemical level, vinegar (acetic acid) is a weaker acid than the hydrochloric acid which the stomach produces. Diluting the stronger acid with a weaker acid, e.g. vinegar, should provide some immediate relief, though may not be as palatable as an antacid or acid-suppressor. I can’t argue with success, and unless you’re guzzling vinegar, it should also be quite safe.

      (As one who hates the smell of vinegar, though, if I tried it, I’d have to hold my nose.)

  5. For the purposes of silver sulfadiazine, I would not consider either of these topical applications. It might, however, help swimmer’s ear, though I’ve never heard of using it for such. Acetic acid (white vinegar) diluted with water 50:50 is a standard option for swimmer’s ear. Silver nitrate eye drops were previously used for prevention of eye infection in newborns (prophylaxis against gonorrheal and chlamydial conjunctivitis), but now erythromycin or other topical eye antibiotic ointments are preferred. The silver nitrate was effective, but did cause eye irritation, as you might suspect.

    Part II of this series gives a reference regarding total amount of silver ingestion known to cause argyria. It’s true single or occasional ingestion of silver is unlikely to cause argyria. A bigger question is, what good is it doing? I know of no placebo-controlled trials that document a benefit of ingesting silver. Whether it works better than placebo is unclear.

  6. tracy says:

    Hello again,
    Do you consider in the ear (for earache) and in the eye (for pinkeye) a topical application?

    I want to emphasize that the people who develop argyiria are drinking huge quantities of high ppm each day for years.

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