cautery, searing or destruction of living animal tissue by use of heat or caustic chemicals. In the past, cauterization of open wounds, even those following amputation of a limb, was performed with hot irons; this served to close off the bleeding vessels as well as to discourage infection. In modern times cautery is used only on small lesions, e.g., to close off a bleeding point in the nasal mucous membrane or to eradicate a wart or other benign lesion. This is accomplished either by the application of a caustic substance such as nitric acid, or by the use of an electrically charged platinum wire (electrocautery).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.