Argyria is a skin disorder triggered by exposure to certain metallic elements that can give rise to various cosmetic and health abnormalities. Know all about the causes, risk factors, symptoms and preventive measures of this disease.
This rare disorder results from extreme exposure to various chemical forms of silver, silver compounds and silver dust. The main characteristic of the disease is bluish-gray to slate-gray coloration of the patient’s skin as well as mucous membranes due to silver particle deposits in the skin. It is not contagious and may develop in a generalized or a localized form.
Argyria has a corresponding condition, Argyrosis, which is related to eyes.
There is a lack of study to find out its exact incidence statistics. But, it is quite rare in countries where the dietary supplements with colloidal silver are not used. The disorder can occur in both adults and children.
It occurs due to unnatural exposure to silver and its compounds. The type of the disorder in a person is determined by its underlying causes. Mild to moderate silver exposure generally results in localized Argyria while severe exposure, like ingesting silver with medications, causes the generalized or universal form of the skin problem. There are various sources of silver exposure:
Picture 1 – Photo of Argyria patient
It can result from occupational exposure to silver to people whose work involves silver refining, silver mining, photographic processing and manufacturing silverware and metal alloys.
Medication containing silver salts
Using silver salts over a prolonged period of time for irrigation of nasal or urethral mucous membranes, for wound dressing and in eye drops can lead to this disorder. Long term use of any oral smoking remedy with silver acetate is another potential cause.
Colloidal silver supplements
These dietary supplements are marketed as an effective treatment for conditions like diabetes, arthritis, AIDS, herpetic infections and cancer. Excessive usage of the products may also increase the risk of the abnormality.
Dental and surgical procedures
It can also result from silver dental fillings and silver sutures applied in abdominal surgery.
Argyria Signs and Symptoms
It is a permanent condition with the following characteristic symptoms:
- The most important sign of the skin disorder is the bluish gray or blue coloration of certain areas of the skin of patients.
- An affected individual often have gums stained with blue-gray spots.
- The blue coloration can eventually extend to wider skin areas such as the forehead, nose, hands and other body areas that are commonly exposed to sun.
Under normal circumstances, an individual has approximately 1 mg silver in his or her body. This skin problem develops when the minimum amount of silver in the body crosses 4 gm. However, in most cases the symptoms start developing only after the levels of silver in the body reach somewhere around 20 gm to 40 gm.
Preventing direct silver exposure can keep the skin disease from occurring. Wearing protective clothes is important for those with occupations involving regular exposure to this element. It is advisable to avoid using silver containing medications, remedies and colloidal silverhealth supplements. Sunscreens can be used for preventing the abnormal coloration from spreading to a larger area of the body.
The bluish skin color is the most important feature which helps to confirm the diagnosis. Diagnosticians study the medical history of patients and examine the blue skin areas under fluorescent x-ray. Sometimes, a skin biopsy can be performed to determine whether there are any signs of silver accumulation in the affected skin areas. Various diagnostic tests are performed to determine whether the minimum amount of silver in the body of sufferers has surpassed 4 gm.
Argyria Differential Diagnosis
Diagnosticians should rule out the presence of the following diseases while diagnosing this condition:
- Wilson disease
- Addison disease
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Ingestion of other metals like gold, bismuth, mercury as well as certain compounds including minocycline, antimalarials, chlorpromazine and amiodorone
There are very few treatment options that can completely cure the skin disease. Severe cases caused by long term oral intake of silver may be irreversible. The treatment mainly focuses on discontinuing the silver exposure immediately to stop the advancement of the condition. It is often considered to be a cosmetic skin disorder without any serious health problems, although it may not be possible to eliminate the disfiguring blue skin coloration. Sometimes, patients are suggested to use topical hydroquinone ointment which can reduce the discoloration.
Doctors also suggest the use of sunscreens to minimize the risk of discoloration spreading to other parts of the skin. Wearing cover-up makeup can help affected individuals with very pronounced blue-skin coloration.
Research is being carried out to determine whether laser treatment can be useful for curing the skin discoloration. According to medical reports, colloidal silver ingestion induced Argyria has been treated successfully by using laser surgery.
The outcome of the disease is relatively poor because of the lack of effective treatment options. Due to this reason, it is better to prevent the condition by avoiding any kind of exposure to silver. Mild cases of the dermatological condition can be managed successfully.
If the exposure to silver and silver compounds continues even after the onset of the skin problem, an individual can develop dangerous complications like:
Picture 2 – Argyria Image
- Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia
- Decreased night vision
- Loss of coordination
- Persistent Bronchitis
- Fatty degeneration of major organs
- Vestibular impairment
- Gustatory disturbance
Immediate medical attention is very important for the management of these complications. Otherwise, they can gradually lead to silver toxicity which may lead to potentially fatal conditions such as paralysis of respiratory system and brain disorders like Tonic–clonic seizures.
A number of forums and support groups have been established for providing information to spread awareness about the harmful effects of excessive silver exposure. Preventing the disease is very important as it cannot be completely cured once an individual starts having its symptoms.