Old versus New Medicine: Blistering

Prior to the birth of modern medical theory, the pervading thought for illness was that disease was caused by an imbalance of body fluids. To right this, common medical practices included purging, starving, blistering or blood-letting to place things back in order.

Maybe you think we don’t use any of these practices anymore. Think again.

Let’s consider blistering a patient.

In historical medicine, blistering used a caustic substance on a portion of the patient’s skin to induce a burn or blister. The goal was to create infection as physicians of the day thought that the subsequent puss draining from the wound would be beneficial for the patient.

Blister Beetle

Blistering is still used as a medical treatment. Molluscum is a wart-like virus that is very common in pediatrics. Cantharone is a blistering agent made from beetles. Some physicians will refer to it lovingly as “bug juice”. A very minute amount (this stuff is powerful) is applied to the lesion with a wooden stick. Over the next several hours, it will cause a water blister to form over the lesion. The goal is that when the blister forms, it will pull up the viral core, to resolve the lesion more quickly.

You can read more about that here: http://www.childrensmemorial.org/depts/dermatology/mollus.aspx

Does it surprise you that a blistering agent is still used as a medical treatment?

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