Since olden days humans are exposed to silver and its compounds. The exposure can be through environment, industry, or with silver used in medicines. Argyria is a rare skin condition in which the skin turns blue due to deposition of silver or its compounds in the body and underneath the skin. It occurs due to chronic exposure or ingestion of silver dust and its salts. This condition is also called blue skin disorder. Argyria is not only limited to skin, but it can affect eyes as well as mucus membrane of the body.
Normally silver metal when exposed to sunlight becomes dark. Similarly, when silver gets accumulated in the body it can transform the skin color to blue or slate gray after exposure to sunlight. Argyria is not fatal condition but causes profound cosmetic stigma in the affected person. Unfortunately, the pigmentation is permanent and the condition is untreatable, although various means are used to eliminate the discoloration.
How Do You Get Argyria Disease?
Argyria results due to unnatural chronic exposure of silver and its compounds. The type of argyria can vary. Mild silver exposure can cause localized skin discoloration while prolonged exposure by the way of ingestion of silver in medications can cause generalized skin discoloration.Excessive absorption of silver over a long period of time can cause overload of silver in the body.
It surpasses the capacity of kidney and liver to eliminate the metal through bile and urine. Too much of silver in the body then gets deposited in the dermis layer of skin. When exposed to sunlight, the skin becomes blue or slate gray. People may be exposed to silver in various ways:
- Occupational exposure: Majority of cases of argyria occur due to occupational exposure to silver and its salts. People who work in silver mines, silver extraction and refining factories, photographic processing units, and workers involved in manufacture of silverware are susceptible to develop argyria.
- Medication present with silver salts: Many medicines contain silver salts in it. If they are consumed for a prolonged period of time, there is risk of developing argyria. Certain nasal drops contain silver salts for irrigation of nasal mucus membrane. Many eye drops and ointments for dressing of wound contain silver salts. When such products are used over a period of time, silver can accumulate in the body producing mild to profound blue discoloration of skin.
- Supplements containing colloid silver: Various supplements are available in the market for treating diabetes, arthritis, herpes etc. Use of these products for a prolonged period of time increases the risk of argyria.
- Dental and surgical instruments: Silver is used in dental amalgams, dental filings, and various other dental procedures. Silver can be absorbed in the body through the dental materials.
Signs And Symptoms Of Argyria
The severity of symptoms depends on various factors such as the quantity of silver absorbed and the duration of its exposure. Following are some of the prime symptoms of argyria:
- Blue or slate gray discolor of skin is the prime symptom of argyria.
- The gums may be stained blue or black.
- Skin discoloration is noticed prominently in sun exposed areas of the body such as forehead, nose, hands, chest and back.
- Hyper pigmentation also occurs in the finger nails and nail bed, conjunctiva of the eye and the mucus membrane of the body. Rarely argyria can produce black tears due to involvement of conjunctiva.
- The internal organs also become blue. They are apparent during abdominal surgery or during an autopsy. Mostly liver and spleen become dark.
Treatment For Argyria Disease
Argyria unfortunately is incurable and irreversible. There is no effective treatment available although health care providers have tried various depigmentary agents. Argyria is not life threatening condition, however due to its bluish discoloration of skin it has severe cosmetic impact on the affected person. The discoloration can be psychologically disturbing to the patient.
Unlike other pigmentations in other conditions, argyria is not readily removed with chemical or surgical dermabrasion. In such scenario prevention is considered to be the best means of cure. People should avoid ingesting silver containing supplements and products for a long period. They should avoid long term contact with silver dust or silver metal.
Once the patient is diagnosed having argyria, he should avoid sun exposure. Use of sunscreen while going out in sun will reduce the risk of discoloration infiltrating other areas of skin.