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Cauterization describes using heat to burn tissue to stem bleeding or destroy diseased tissue.
Up until the early 19th century, cauterization by using hot irons was the standard treatment for severe bleeding, such as that caused by bullet or artillery wounds. However, an accidental experiment (a surgeon ran out of cauterization irons) showed that bandaged wounds not only healed faster but resulted in lower infection rates and less overall tissue damage.
However, cauterization is still used in medical procedures, generally by using a sterilized needle probe attached to a heat gun, much like a soldering gun. Cauterization is useful in surgery as it allows the physician to stem bleeding without the need to cover the wound. Cauterization also stems bleeding faster and has the positive effect of sterilizing the tissue. However, cauterization will cause damage to healthy tissue as well and as such must only be used when other alternatives are contraindicated.
In addition to its use in surgery, cauterization can be used to treat severe lacerations and bleeding that occurs from the loss of a layer of skin. It is also commonly used to treat persistent nosebleeds.
One of the benefits of using a laser for surgery is that it automatically cauterizes the tissue surrounding it, unlike a scalpel.
Cryosurgery is often used to replace procedures that use cauterization as it has fewer side effects.