Argyria is a condition where deposits of silver build up in your body at toxic levels. This causes your skin and nails to turn bluish-gray. This condition is rare but affects people who work in manufacturing or people who take colloidal silver supplements. Symptoms can be irreversible and difficult to treat.
Argyria is a condition that causes your skin and mucous membranes (the lining of parts of your body) to turn blue to gray. This is the result of silver building up in your body. You can get this condition if you have frequent exposure over time to microscopic silver compounds that absorb into your body.
Silver is an element that’s found in the Earth’s crust. This element has many functions and can be formed into jewelry, tableware, mirrors and batteries. Microscopic metal particles surround us every day. They’re in the air, the food you eat, the water you drink, in dental fillings and some medicines and supplements. You have small amounts of silver in your body at all times. When there’s too much silver in your body, you’ll experience symptoms of argyria.
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Argyria isn’t common because the use of silver in manufacturing and medicine significantly declined in the 21st century. People who work with silver or use colloidal silver as a dietary supplement are most at risk of developing this condition.
There are three types of argyria:
Symptoms of argyria include:
Early signs of the condition can begin in your mouth, where sections of your gums could appear brownish-gray before the condition spreads to your skin.
Your symptoms could vary based on:
Additional symptoms caused by a buildup of silver in your body could include:
Silver toxicity causes argyria. Silver toxicity occurs when too much silver is in your body.
Your body has very small amounts of silver and other metals in it. Toxicity usually happens when you’re exposed to silver particles for a long period of time. Silver can enter your body by:
Silver exposure occurs when microscopic silver deposits absorb into your body. This normally happens over a long period of time. You can’t get silver exposure by eating with a silver fork or wearing jewelry. You can get silver exposure by:
Your provider will diagnose argyria after a complete medical history and a physical exam to learn more about your symptoms. Your provider might ask questions to see if you recently had exposure to metals or if you used any products that contain silver compounds.
Tests could confirm your diagnosis and rule out other conditions. A skin biopsy is the most effective test where your provider will remove a small sample of your skin tissue that’s gray or blue and examine it for silver deposits under a microscope.
Treatment for argyria is challenging for healthcare providers because it’s difficult to reverse the changes to your skin after they appear.
If you receive an argyria diagnosis, your provider will recommend you stop using any products that contain silver, including medicines, eye drops or supplements. If you work in an environment where silver is present, your provider will recommend you wear personal protective equipment while at work, which could include gloves, eye protection and/or a mask.
Treatment with chelating agents, which are medicines that remove metals from your body, don’t work well with argyria.
Some cases of argyria skin discoloration improve with laser therapy. Laser therapy is a technique where your provider will use a powerful light on your skin where symptoms appear to destroy existing skin tissue. This helps your body produce new, healthy skin tissue.
All treatment options for argyria vary based on how much silver is in your body. The results from treatment may range from somewhat effective to not effective at all since skin discoloration symptoms can be irreversible. Research is ongoing to learn more about treatment options for argyria.
Your symptoms of skin discoloration could increase with ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun. To avoid further skin discoloration, wear protective clothing or accessories when outdoors and wear sunscreen daily. If you’re active outside, reapply sunscreen throughout the day when you start to sweat or if your skin gets wet.
You can use makeup to temporarily cover up areas of your skin where you have symptoms of argyria. Make sure you wash off the makeup at the end of the day to prevent clogging your pores.
You can reduce your risk of developing argyria by:
Argyria can be difficult to treat and symptoms may be irreversible. You can wear makeup to temporarily cover up the blue-gray tone of your skin if treatment is ineffective.
Talk to your provider before using any products or supplements that contain trace amounts of silver, especially colloidal silver. If you work with silver at your job, talk to your employer about steps you can take to protect yourself from silver compounds in your workplace by wearing personal protective equipment.
Visit your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of argyria. Early detection and avoidance of silver prevent symptoms from spreading throughout your body.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Argyria is a rare condition that can cause irreversible discoloration to your skin. If you work with products that contain silver, talk to your employer about how you can protect yourself while on the job. Products that contain silver, like colloidal silver, are harmful to your body. If you choose to take these products, talk to your provider about how to do so safely.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/28/2023.
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