ENT Health

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

How Does Silver Nitrate Cauterize?

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Silver nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used by ENT surgeons to stop nosebleeds as well as obliterate granulation tissue (found around tracheostomy stomas as well as intra-orally).

Medical silver nitrate is typically purchased as matchstick applicators and is usually found in combination with potassium nitrate (75% silver nitrate and 25% potassium nitrate).

When this applicator is combined with water (moisture inside the nose or blood):

AgNO3(aq) + HOH(l)  -->  AgOH(s) + HNO3(aq)

Nitric acid (HNO3) is produced along with an insoluble precipitate silver hydroxide (AgOH) which produces the characteristic brownish-white discoloration that can stain clothing as well as skin.

Nitric acid also known as aqua fortis and spirit of niter, is a highly corrosive strong mineral acid and is what initiates the biologic "cauterization" action. It is also what causes a patient to feel a burning sensation when applied.

Silver nitrate applicator sticks can be purchased on Amazon.com.

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