Cauterization, or cautery, is a medical technique performed by a doctor or surgeon. During the procedure, they use electricity or chemicals to burn tissue in order to close a wound. It may also be done to remove harmful tissue.
Wound cauterization is a routine procedure, but it’s not the first line of treatment. Instead, it’s used only in certain situations.
Additionally, cauterization should be done only by a medical professional. Cauterizing a wound yourself can be dangerous.
Read on to learn what cauterization involves, along with the potential risks and healing process.
Cauterization may be used for several reasons. These include:
Cauterization helps control blood loss in the following situations:
- during surgery or dental extraction
- for chronic nosebleeds
- after an injury
The procedure works by burning the blood vessels that are bleeding. This seals the blood vessels, which decreases or stops bleeding.
Cauterization can also reduce the risk of infection. It’s used to remove diseased tissue, which prevents the spread of infection-causing bacteria.
Lesion or tumor removal
Cauterization is used to remove abnormal skin growths, such as:
- warts (including genital warts)
- skin tags
It works by destroying and removing the skin. Depending on the size of the lesion or tumor, you might need several rounds of cauterization.
Eye disease management
Punctal plugs are small devices inserted into your tear ducts. They help retain moisture on the eye’s surface, which can help treat chronic dry eye.
If your punctal plugs repeatedly fall out, cauterization can help prevent this. In this case, the procedure is called punctal cauterization.
As with all medical procedures, cauterization comes with potential risks. These include:
- electric shock
- nerve or tissue damage
- damage to healthy skin
- internal and external burns
- interference with implantable electronic devices, like pacemakers
While it can be done, cauterizing your own wound is not safe. The practice involves purposely burning the skin, so it requires specific techniques and equipment.
It’s best to seek medical help for the procedure. A healthcare professional will:
- have the right equipment
- know which tissue to burn for the best results
- know how much electricity or chemicals to use
- know how much pressure to apply (to prevent scarring)
- take precautions based on any other medical conditions you may have
- provide local anesthesia to reduce pain
While you wait for medical care, here’s what you can do to protect the wound:
- Wash your hands, then place a clean cloth on the wound. Apply firm pressure for about 5 minutes to reduce bleeding. Avoid frequently removing the cloth to check on the wound.
- Keep the wound above your heart, if possible.
- Rinse the wound with lukewarm water, then gently pat around it.
- Cover the wound with nonstick dressing.
Cauterization is performed at the hospital. Before the procedure, a healthcare professional might apply local anesthesia to control pain.
The exact process depends on the type of cauterization. Types of cauterization include:
Before electrocauterization, a medical professional will place a grounding pad on your body, typically on your thigh. The pad will protect you from the effects of the electricity.
During the procedure, a healthcare professional will use a pencil-like instrument called a probe. An electric current travels through the probe. When they apply the instrument to your tissue, the electricity heats and burns the skin.
Chemical cauterization uses chemical agents, such as:
- silver nitrate
- ferric subsulfate solution
- aluminum chloride hexahydrate
During the process, a medical professional will dip a small, pointed wooden stick into one of these chemicals. Next, they’ll transfer a small amount onto your wound. This will destroy the skin on contact.
Since excess chemicals might drip onto healthy skin, it’s important to have this procedure done by a trained professional.
After cauterization by a healthcare professional, it’s important to care for your wound. This will promote proper wound healing and prevent complications.
Here are the best practices for cauterized wound aftercare:
- Make sure the wound stays dry for 48 hours after the procedure.
- Avoid rubbing the wound.
- Avoid picking at your scab. It should fall off on its own in 4 to 6 weeks.
- Avoid touching very hot or cold things until the anesthesia wears off. If the area is still numb, you might accidentally burn yourself.
- If your wound is near your mouth, eat soft meals that require minimal chewing. Use a straw to drink beverages.
- If your wound bleeds, place a clean cloth on the area and press firmly for 20 minutes.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes, which can slow down healing.
- Avoid exercise or movement that might stretch your wound.
- Avoid swimming until your wound has healed.
- If your doctor recommended applying a special ointment, be sure to follow their instructions.
- Take medication for the pain according to the doctor’s instructions.
When you should see a doctor
Call a doctor or or go to an urgent care clinic if you notice signs of poor wound healing:
- increasing pain
- increasing redness or swelling
- hot or warm to the touch
- yellow pus or liquid
Cauterization is not the first choice of treatment. In most cases, the following methods will be used to close wounds before cauterization is considered:
- compression and bandages (for minor wounds)
- skin glue (liquid stitches)
The best method depends on your wound.
Cauterization is the process of destroying tissue with electricity or chemicals. It’s done to:
- remove harmful tissue
- reduce bleeding
- close wounds
The procedure poses a risk for burns, scarring, and damage of healthy tissue.
That’s why it should be done by a medical professional only. They’ll know exactly where to apply the electricity or chemicals, as well as how much pressure to use.
After your wound has been cauterized, be sure to take care of it. Avoid picking at your scab or stretching the area. If you notice signs of infection, such as increasing pain or pus, contact a doctor.