The medical practice or technique of cauterization is a medical term describing the burning of part of a body to remove or close off a part of it in a process called cautery, which destroys some tissue, in an attempt to mitigate damage, remove an undesired growth, or minimize other potential medical harmful possibilities such as infections, when antibiotics are not available. The practice was once widespread for treatment of wounds. Its utility before the advent of antibiotics was effective on several levels:

  • useful in stopping severe blood-loss,
  • To close amputations,
  • useful in preventing infections, including complications from septicaemia.

Actual cautery is a term referring to the white-hot iron—a metal generally heated only up to a dull red glow - that is applied to produce blisters, to stop bleeding of a blood vessel, and other similar purposes.The main forms of cauterization used today in the first world are Electro Cautery , Chemical Cautery and Nasal cauterization. Electro Cautery , Chemical Cautery where both are prevalent in the removal of unsightly warts. Cautery can also mean the branding of a human, either recreational or forced. Accidental burns can be considered cauterization as well.

Electro Cauterization

Electro Cauterization is the process of destroying tissue using heat conduction from a metal probe heated by electric current (much like arc welding). The procedure is used to stop bleeding from small vessels (larger vessels being ligated) or for cutting through soft tissue. Unlike Electro Cautery, Electro Surgery is based on generation of heat inside tissue, using electric current passing through the tissue itself. Electro Cautery is used in the treatment of skin cancers via electrodessication and curettage. Electro Cauterization is preferable to chemical cauterization because chemicals can leach into neighbouring tissue and cauterize outside of the intended boundaries.

Chemical cautery

Many chemical reactions can destroy tissue and some are used routinely in medicine, most commonly for the removal of small skin lesions (i.e. warts or necrotized tissue) or hemostasis. The disadvantages are that chemicals can leach into areas where cauterization was not intended. For this reason, laser and electrical methods are preferable, where practical. Some cauterizing agents are:

    • Silver nitrate: Active ingredient of the lunar caustic, a stick that traditionally looks like a large match-stick. It is dipped into water and pressed onto the lesion to be cauterized for a few moments.
    • Trichloroacetic acid
    • Cantharidin: An extract of the blister beetle that causes epidermal necrosis and blistering; used to treat warts.

Nasal cauterization

If a person has been having frequent nose bleeds, it is most likely caused by an exposed blood vessel in their nose. Even if the nose is not bleeding at the time, it is cauterized to prevent future bleeding. The different methods of cauterization include burning the affected area with acid, hot metal, lasers, or silver nitrate. Such a procedure is naturally quite painful. Sometimes liquid nitrogen is used as a less painful alternative, though it is less effective. In the few countries that permit the use of cocaine for medicinal purposes, it is occasionally used topically to make this procedure less uncomfortable, cocaine being the only local anesthetic which also produces vasoconstriction, making it ideal for controlling nosebleeds.