Silver (Ag) is a natural element. It is found in the environment in combination with other elements in the form of sulfides, chlorides, and silver nitrate. Silver is often found as a by-product during the processing of minerals to recover copper, lead, zinc, and gold. Silver is used in the manufacture of jewelry and other ornaments, electronic equipment, and tooth seals. It is also used in photos, in adhesive alloys, to disinfect drinking water and pool water as well as as an antibacterial agent. Silver has also been used in medicines and chewing gum as a smoking cessation aid. Its very high concentrations in the body can cause "argyria", a blue-gray coloring of the skin and other organs.
How does Silver come into the environment?
- Silver can be released into the air and water through natural processes such as rock disintegration.
- Human activities such as ore processing, cement production, and burning of fossil fuels can release silver into the air.
- It may be released into the water by film camera processing.
- Rain can wash silver off the ground and transport it to groundwater.
- Silver does not appear to be significantly concentrated in aquatic animals.
How is one exposed to Silver?
- By breathing low levels from the air.
- Consumption of food and water.
- Workers employed in jewelry, welding, developing photographs, and elsewhere.
- Using anti-smoking lozenges or other silver-containing medications.
How can Silver affect health?
Exposure to high levels of silver for a long time can lead to a condition called argyria, a blue-gray coloring of the skin and other body tissues. Exposure to lower levels of silver can also cause deposition on the skin and other parts of the body. However, it is not known whether this situation is harmful. Argyria is a permanent (irreversible) condition, but it seems to create more aesthetic problems without any other serious health impact.
Exposure to high levels of silver in the air results in respiratory problems, lung and throat irritation, and stomach aches. Upon contact with skin, silver can cause mild allergic reactions in some people such as rash, edema, and inflammation.
Animal studies have shown that ingestion of silver results in deposition on the skin.
Silver has been used in dentistry in amalgamation along with Mercury, Tin, and Gold.
In medicine, silver is incorporated into wound dressings and as an antimicrobial coating on medical devices. Wound dressings contain silver sulfadiazine or silver nanoparticles and are used to treat external infections. Silver is also used in some urinary catheters (reduces urinary tract infections associated with catheters) and in some endotracheal tubes (reduces respiratory-related pneumonia). Silver ions are bioactive and in sufficient concentration, they destroy the bacteria easily in vitro.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to silver?
Silver can be measured in blood, urine, feces, and body tissues. As silver accumulates in the body, the best way to check for previous exposure is through hair and nail samples.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of all pathological conditions. 70%-80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. The correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased".
Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and we contact your doctor to get the best possible medical care.