Argyria: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments
Argyria (blue skin disorder) is a condition that is triggered by exposure to the accumulation of certain silver metallic elements that cause health and cosmetic abnormalities. Scientists know that its primary cause is the result of exposure or ingestion of silver dust compounds found in numerous chemical compositions. The condition affects the skin and the whites of the eyes (argyrosis).
Consumption or exposure to the silver dust can cause a reaction to the skin and the whiteness of the eyes when the body's tissue is exposed to sunlight. The rays of the sun dark in the element in the skin and tissue. This reaction is often the result of low toxicity by absorbed silver dust. The condition is not lethal nor does it produce serious side effects.
Argyria is considered an irreversible and incurable condition where prevention seems to be the only cure. Doctors advise patients not to come in contact with silver dust or silver compounds. However, if exposed to the silver, it is best to avoid direct sunlight that could cause a cosmetic change in the color of the whites of the eyes and skin. In many instances, the condition is developed by the intake of specific medicines or through cyanosis were skin tissue lack sufficient blood. Others develop blue skin disorder by accumulating blood-based methemoglobin or the buildup of homogentisic acid that could cause the skin, the eyes and ear cartilage to darken.
- Who Is at Risk for Developing Argyria?
- Common Symptoms
- Diagnosing Argyria
- Treating the Condition
- Argyria Prognosis
Who Is at Risk for Developing Argyria?
Individuals who take colloidal silver products are at risk for developing argyria (blue skin disorder). To date, medical science has yet to determine the safety or efficacy of using colloidal sober, which has no known purpose for the health and well-being of the body. Silver is not an essential mineral for human life.
The condition does not reverse once the product is no longer taken for the patient is no longer exposed to silver dust. This is because it passes the elimination process of the liver and kidney that can excrete accumulated metals through bile and urine. Instead, the accumulation of silver dust deposits in the skin's dermis layer that when exposed to sunlight takes on a slate gray or dark blue tint. People are most commonly exposed to silver compounds and dust through various means including:
- On-The-Job Exposure – Miners are highly susceptible to developing argyria who work in salts and silver or those who are involved in silver refinery and extraction, photographic processing, jewelry making, metal alloy manufacturing, or the manufacturing of silverware.
- Drugs Made with Silver Salts – Many drugs are formulated with silver salts that have taken for an extended period of time can lead to argyria. This includes silver salt containing nasal drops that are recommended for irrigating the mucous membrane of the nasal cavity. Many ointments and eye drops for treating open wounds are developed with silver salts that can accumulate in the tissue of the body over time and produce profound blue or slate gray discoloration of the skin.
- Surgical and Dental Instruments – Many dental procedures use silver products including dental fillings and dental amalgams or silver compounds can be absorbed into the tissues of the body by a variety of dental materials.
- Supplement Products Containing Colloidal Silver – Many supplements that are developed for the treatment of herpes, arthritis, diabetes contain colloidal silver. Extended use of the products can increase the potential risk of developing argyria.
Individuals with high exposure to silver dust and compounds can cause a quick development of argyria. In addition, areas of the body that are continuously exposed to the rays of the sun tend to turn much darker compared to parts of the body that are typically covered up.
The severity of the most common symptoms associated with argyria is often based on the amount of silver dust or compounds absorbed and the length of time the body is exposed to sunlight. The most common argyria symptoms include:
- Slate gray or blue tint discoloration of the skin
- Black or blue discoloration of the gums
- Hyperpigmentation that develops on the nail beds of the fingers and toes
- Hyperpigmentation of the mucous membrane and whites of the eyes (conjunctiva)
- Discoloration of the skin in areas of the body exposed to sunlight including the face, nose, forehead, chest, hands, and back
- Slate gray or blue internal organs that are revealed during surgery or autopsies, usually involving the spleen and liver
Diagnosing the condition is very straightforward. Any gray or blue discoloration of the skin, nails, eyes, or ear cartilage is usually an indicator of exposure to colloidal silver, silver compounds, and silver dust. Usually, the doctor will order urine, stool, and blood tests to determine if the patient has been overexposed to silver products.
To accurately diagnose argyria, the doctor will usually take a biopsy (a small sample of tissue) of the skin that will be evaluated and analyzed under a microscope by a trained pathologist. A confirmation of the diagnosis of argyria usually requires the patient to take certain precautions at avoiding further exposure to the harmful metal.
Usually, the doctor will rule out other conditions that produce some of the same symptoms as argyria. This includes:
- Addison disease
- Wilson disease
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Exposure to other metals including mercury, bismuth, gold and various compounds including antimalarial drugs, minocycline, amiodarone, and chlorpromazine
Treating the Condition
While there is currently no cure for argyria, doctors have found success in using laser treatments to restore the normal coloration of the skin. Some patients have seen significant improvement of skin coloration after a single treatment. However, the total reversal of skin discoloration is limited through laser treatments.
Usually, the doctor will help the patient determine how they were exposed to silver dust and compounds to minimize the potential for further exposure. These steps might include:
- Stop using any cosmetic that contains silver products
- Stop taking any drug or dietary supplement that contains silver
- Use protective wear including gloves that cover the skin when working with silver -containing products.
In addition, the doctor will recommend that the patient uses a sunscreen liberally to avoid further skin discoloration and darkening at the affected sites.
The prognosis (outlook) is often bleak for individuals who suffer mild to severe cases of argyria. This is because it is often challenging to reverse the effects associated with the condition other than the limited results of laser treatment. However, the condition is not life-threatening and has never been associated with any ill effects, reproductive issues, neurological problems, cancer, or another malady.
Mild cases involving argyria are easily managed by a competent dermatologist. However, the patient can develop some complications including persistent bronchitis, loss of coordination, decreased night vision, equilibrium impairment, hemorrhaging, and others.
Typically, patients suffer the social defects of the condition because of the cosmetic discoloration of their skin that often generates a harsh emotional toll that directly affects the quality of life. This can extend to anxiety, depression, and apprehension about living a normal life and learning coping skills from a trained counselor or therapist to overcome the social norms associated with skin abnormalities.