Argyria is a blue skin discoloration resulting from excessive exposure to silver. Silver metal workers, people who mine silver, and people who take colloidal silver supplements can all develop this rare condition. Once the condition develops, it is very challenging to treat. Continued exposure to silver either through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation can result in severe complications.
There are two types of argyria: localized and universal. Topical treatments such as nasal sprays contain silver compounds that can cause localized argyria at the mucus membranes. Some tattoo colors also have a silver base, which can cause localized argyria. Medications now seldom include silver compounds, and reputable tattoo parlors do not employ silver in any of their dyes. Tooth fillings made from silver do contribute to a slight risk for developing the condition, so as a result, fillings do not usually contain silver today.
Universal argyria occurs when the people ingest silver particles in medicines, or through exposure to fine silver dust. In these cases, the blue color of the skin is more diffuse, but may at first be noted mostly on areas of the skin that receive sun exposure. The face, hands, and chest may all turn a bluish-gray. In the worst cases, all of the skin will turn blue, and organs like the spleen and liver may also have a bluish cast.
Continued exposure to silver compounds can result in severe complications, which can include fatty degeneration of the major organs, thrombocytopenia, persistent bronchitis, loss of coordination and visual impairment at night. Should these symptoms and the blue skin tone be ignored, silver toxicity can develop, resulting in grand mal seizures, and the paralysis of the respiratory system, which is fatal.
This condition is usually diagnosed by taking a medical history and examining the blue patches under fluorescent x-ray. Skin biopsy at sites that appear most like argyria may also show evidence of too much silver in the skin. Generally humans have about 1 milligram of silver in their bodies, and this disease can occur with as little as 4 grams in the body. It is more common for people to have 20 to 40 grams of silver in their bodies when they exhibit argyria.
Most treatments focus on ending exposure to silver. Continued exposure can lead to the complications above. This disease is often considered simply a cosmetic skin condition, but there are few treatments that help eliminate the blue color of the skin. Some doctors suggest that a topical hydroquinone ointment helps minimize the discoloration.
Patients are also advised to use sunscreen, and some may also wear cover-up makeup if the blue discoloration is very pronounced. Since few cures exist, focus is on prevention. In fact, in developed countries, argyria is relatively rare, as long as people don’t take silver supplements.