Applying Field Dressing

The History of Silver in Military Medicine

As military medicine advances, we sometimes find that tried-and-true technologies, substances, and medicines work the best. Silver, used for millennia on the battlefield to fight infection, continues to yield promising results as a medicinal tool for soldiers. 

Advancements in recent technology mean that silver is being re-examined for its antimicrobial properties, and is finding its way into military medicine, especially in the field of active combat trauma care. Silver nylon is increasingly being used as a dressing for battlefield injuries and burns, though some possible drawbacks to this technology exist.

Keep reading to learn more about the use of silver in military medicine, the unique properties that set silver apart for use on the battlefield, and possible future medicinal uses of silver for the treatment of war injuries. 

Effectiveness of Silver-Based Military Medicine 

For thousands of years, silver has been known to have restorative and protective properties. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used silver in their vessels to prevent spoilage. Silver was also used for dishware and utensils for its natural sanitizing properties, and silver foil was used in early modern warfare to help reduce infection in wounded men.  

Silver’s deadly effect on microbes is well-documented in modern times and is proving useful in combat. As pathogens encountered during warfare have grown increasingly resistant to antibiotics, it has become necessary to find creative and successful treatment options for injured servicemen.

Why is silver so unique and effective? The properties of silver serve to neutralize microbes, disrupt their basic internal functions, prevent them from causing further infection, and can rapidly kill entire colonies of bacteria through the proximity of neutralized members. 

This unique process has resulted in a variety of silver-based military medical products, such as nylon bandage dressing interwoven with silver threads. These innovative bandages keep wounds and burns protected from further contamination while killing off bacteria already within the injury.  

Some studies have been done indicating the high performance of silver-infused bandages on the battlefield, and the suitability of silver dressings for reducing infection on the field, in contexts where medical supplies are limited. 

The general suitability of silver-based products and technology on the battlefield is demonstrated by their versatility, simplicity, and ease of use in battle. 

General Benefits of Silver-Based Medical Products 

The use of silver-based medical products in war is seen as a step forward in developing medicinal technologies that are more durable, effective, and beneficial to soldiers, especially in the hectic context of wartime medicine. 

Silver-based medical bandages, for example, do not need to be changed as frequently, and as they are naturally resistant to bacteria can be left on for longer, contributing even more to the healing of the wounds they protect. Bandages can be changed every two weeks as per a 2012 study in the International Wound Journal while maintaining patient safety. 

The relative toxicity of silver to humans is rare. While silver allergies do exist, they are uncommon, and most wounded soldiers can benefit from silver-infused wound dressings with no risk of an adverse reaction. 

These products are also noted for achieving several ends simultaneously, such as

While these beneficial qualities are rarely disputed, some concerns exist as to the use of silver-based products for military medical use. 

Drawbacks to Silver-Based Military Medical Products

Though research has demonstrated the usefulness of silver as an antimicrobial agent, uncertainty still exists as to the usefulness of silver-based wound dressings. Silver-based bandages are not known to reduce the overall healing time. While silver is deadly to harmful microbes, wounds treated with silver bandages do not necessarily heal faster than those treated with gauze. 

The aforementioned 2012 study, for example, questioned the usefulness of silver dressings for rapid healing while acknowledging its benefits as an antimicrobial agent. Also cited was the increased cost of silver-infused bandages, and the burden this may put on military budgets. 

It is also possible that frequent use of silver-based products in military medicine may cause new strains of silver-resistant microbes to develop. Just as bacteria have gradually become resistant to antibiotics, there is concern that silver resistance could be imminent, as well. This would prove very difficult to handle, as microbes unaffected by silver as well as antibiotics would be devastating for soldier health.   

Despite these possible drawbacks, new studies indicate that the future for silver in military medicine has yet to reach its full potential. 

What are Future Uses for Silver in Military Medicine?

While most current research focuses on silver as a topical treatment for wounds, alternative uses for silver exist. As a powerful antimicrobial agent, silver could one day be used alongside an implanted medical device to help soldiers heal from within. Such research has already been conducted which indicates that such technology may be effective at reducing microbial load in wounds. 

Silver nanoparticles are another field of research and study, and this technology has multiple possible applications, such as in air filtration, as a coating for medically implanted devices, and within antimicrobial vaccines. 

The use of silver in helping the body to adjust to implanted devices may prove especially helpful as a means of reducing infection and rejection rates in newer, bionic military prosthetic technology. 


Silver-based products, specifically silver-infused medical bandages, have multiple advantages within the field of military medicine. They are durable, can be changed less frequently, and harness the natural antimicrobial properties of silver to help reduce bacterial load in wounds, and protect wounded soldiers from further infection.   

While silver is effective, some concerns over its use for military medical purposes include the relative expense of the products from which it is made contrasted against the lower price of traditional gauze bandages. Worry also exists over the potential for silver-resistant microbes to emerge as a result of its use.

Future possible applications of this technology include the use of silver-coated implanted medical devices, such as bionic prosthetics used by soldiers, and as a method to help wounded servicemen heal from within. 

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