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Spongia.—Sponge.

The skeleton of Spongia officinalis, Linné.
Class: Poriphera. Order: Ceratospongia.
ILLUSTRATION: Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1881, p. 182.

Source, Description, and History.—The familiar article, known as sponge, is the skeleton of a marine growth that was once classed as a zoophyte, or plant animal. It grows attached to submarine rocks, and consists of three parts—the horny skeleton, the gelatinous, dark-colored, fleshy matter, called sarcode, and the curious and beautiful spicules, anchor-like spines of calcareous or silicious substance, which hold the fleshy mass together. The latter is transversed by a system of channels, which end in numerous surface pores, the larger ones being called oscula. Through these openings the sea water, from which the sponge draws its nourishment, is continually propelled by special organs of the animal. The shape of the sponge, the distribution of the oscules on the surface, the fineness of the texture, and the elasticity of the sponge, determine its quality. Turkey or Mediterranean sponge, from Smyrna, collected in the Grecian Archipelago, Syria, and the Red Sea, is the finest grade, usually cup-shaped, and the oscules are crowded near the center of the cup. The less valuable grades occur in shallow waters, while the finest kinds grow at a depth of 20 to 30 fathoms (120 to 180 feet), and are secured by divers. (For an interesting account, see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 272, from Scientific American, and ibid., p. 322; also 1872, p. 369.) West-India or Bahama sponge, collected along the Bahama Islands, is much coarser, oblong or convex, and, according to Hyatt (1876), is distinguished as reef or glove sponge, sheep's-wool sponge, abaco-velvet, cay-velvet, grass, hard-head, and yellow sponge (see description of each, by E. M. Holmes, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, pp. 258-262). Considerable sponge-fishing is also carried on along the west and south coast of Florida, where, by means of hooks attached to a long pole, the sponges are torn from the rocks on which they grow. They grow there at a depth of from 3 to 6 fathoms (18 to 36 feet), and can be plainly seen from the surface of the water when viewed through a glass plate, which forms the bottom of a wooden bucket. (For much interesting details, see W. B. Burk, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1895, pp. 21-26.)

When first taken from the sea, sponge has a fishy odor, and has to be squeezed and washed to free it from gelatinous matter, otherwise it would speedily putrefy. Sometimes it is first buried in sand for a few days to remove the gelatinous matter, and, afterward, soaked, squeezed, and washed. The sponge of commerce is soft, light, flexible, and compressible, absorbs water, and thereby swells up, burns with an animal odor, is dissolved by liquor potassae, and is colored yellow by nitric acid. To prepare it for use, it should first be beaten and well shaken, then placed in water for 1 or 2 days, beaten again, dried, and shaken to remove sand and other foreign substances, after which it may be placed in very dilute hydrochloric or sulphuric acid, to dissolve the earthy concretions, and finally washed in several waters to free it from acid. Solution of sulphurous acid, or chlorine gas, is usually employed to bleach sponge. A good method is to soak the sponge for not longer than 10 minutes in a solution of potassium permanganate (2 per cent), and subsequently dipping it in a solution of oxalic acid (2 per cent), previously slightly acidulated with sulphuric acid. Several other methods are suggested (see below).

Chemical Composition.—Edward C. C. Stanford gives the following analysis of true Turkish sponge: Water, 19.4 per cent; organic matter, 69.39 per cent; ash, soluble in water, 2.21 per cent (containing iodine, 0.2 per cent); ash, insoluble in water (sand, etc.), 9 percent (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1884, p. 584; also see Preuss, following page), The organic matter of sponge is called spongin. It is a nitrogenous body allied to, but different from, sericin (fibroin), which composes silk-cocoon and spider-webs. Boiling with diluted sulphuric acid produces glycocoll and leucin, while sericin yields tyrosin and serin.

Action and Uses.—Sponge, when properly prepared, is of much utility to the surgeon, on account of the facility with which it absorbs fluids, and is much used for removing blood during operations, which would otherwise interfere with their safe and rapid termination; to imbibe acrid discharges from wounds and ulcers, and to check external hemorrhages from small blood vessels, by pressing it upon the bleeding part. Sponges that have been used in surgical operations, or for any of the above purposes, must be thoroughly washed with boiling water before being used again, and, even then, should be subjected to antiseptic treatment. Gauze, cotton, or compressed lint are far safer than sponges for the above-named purposes. Sponge has likewise been used for dilating sinuses, wounds, etc., and producing premature delivery, by introducing a piece of sponge tent, of a conical form, into the mouth of the uterus, and allowing it to remain there for a time, and then changing it until, by its swelling and the irritation it produces, uterine contractions are caused. The same procedure is sometimes instituted for the relief of dysmenorrhoea (see also Spongia Usta). However, for the latter purpose specially constructed dilators are preferred to the sponge tent.

Related Products and Derivatives.—SPONGIA USTA, Burnt sponge, Spongia tosta. Cut the sponge in pieces, and bruise it, so as to free it from foreign matters adhering to it; burn it in a covered iron vessel, until it becomes black and friable; afterward reduce it to a very fine powder (Dunc.—Lond.). The burning or roasting should not be carried further than carbonization, and until a sample taken out is easily pulverizable. The yield of burnt sponge is about 50 per cent. According to Pereira, its efficacy is due to the presence of iodine and bromine compounds. Preuss obtained from sponge, by calcination, iodide of sodium, 2.14 per cent; bromide of magnesium, 0.76 per cent; carbon and silicious matter, 32.7 per cent; sodium chloride, 11.2 per cent; calcium sulphate, 16.4 per cent; calcium carbonate, 10.3 per cent; calcium phosphate, 3.5 per cent; oxide of iron, 2.87 per cent; magnesia, 0.47 per cent. Burnt sponge, if good, should evolve violet fumes (vapor of iodine), when treated with concentrated sulphuric acid in a flask. Said to be alterative and antiscrofulous, and has been efficient in scrofula, bronchocele, diseases of the skin, and tuberculous affections generally. Its dose is from 1/2 to 2 or even 3 drachms. There is no doubt of the efficacy of spongia usta in goitre, but since it was learned that its virtues probably depended upon the iodine it contains, the agent has been largely superseded by iodine itself. There are some, however, who contend that it will cure cases that resist the action of iodine. Homoeopaths employ burnt sponge, under the name of Spongia or Spongia tosta, in affections of the larynx, particularly croup, croupous cough, coughs of laryngeal phthisis, in goitre, and many other conditions. In homoeopathic pharmacy, Turkey sponge is employed and roasted brown (not burnt), and, finally, tinctured in alcohol (see Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia, 1890). This is usually administered in the second and third attenuations. A pill, which has acquired some considerable reputation in the cure of scrofula and tuberculous maladies generally, called the iodine pill, and which I made known to the profession several years since, is made as follows: Take of iodine, 50 grains; sulphate of morphine, 10 grains; burnt sponge, 100 grains. Triturate these well together, and into a fine powder, and then form the mixture into a pill mass, by the addition of molasses or other compatible medium, and divide into 100 pills. To be kept in a dry place. Dose, 2 or 3 pills, daily (J. King).

SPONGIA DECOLORATA (N. F.), Decolorized sponge, Bleached sponge.—" Sponge, potassium permanganate, sodium hyposulphite, hydrochloric acid, water, each, a sufficient quantity. Free the sponge from sand and any other obvious impurities or damaged portions by beating, washing, and trimming; then soak it for about 15 minutes in a sufficient quantity of solution of potassium permanganate, containing fifteen grammes (15 Gm.) [231 grs.] to the liter (33 fl℥, 391♏), wringing the sponge out occasionally, and replacing it in the liquid. Then remove it and wash it with water, until the latter runs off colorless. Wring out the water, and then place the sponge into a solution of sodium hyposulphite, containing sixty grammes (60 Gm.) [2 ozs. av., 51 grs.] to the liter. Next add for every liter of the last-named solution used, sixty cubic centimeters (60 Cc.) [2 fl℥, 14♏] of hydrochloric acid, diluted with two hundred and fifty cubic centimeters (250 Cc.) [8 fl℥, 218♏] of water. Macerate the sponge in the liquid for about 15 minutes, expressing it frequently and replacing it in the liquid. Then remove it, wash it thoroughly with water, and dry it. In the case of large and dark-colored sponges, this treatment may be repeated until the color has been removed as far as possible. Note.—If it is desired to keep the sponge soft, and to prevent it from shrinking when dry, it may be dipped, after having been finally washed, into a mixture of 1 volume of glycerin and 5 volumes of water, after which it is to be wrung out and allowed to dry"—(Nat. Form.).

SPONGIA CERATA, or SPONGE TENT.—The sponge tent, made by impregnating sponge with melted wax, pressing it between two iron plates, and then forming it into size and shape required, is not resorted to as frequently as formerly, in enlarging sinus orifices and canals, particularly the os uteri.

SPONGIA COMPRESSA, Compressed sponge, Sponge tent.—Compressed sponge may be prepared by cutting perfectly clean sponge, of best quality, while still moist, into elongated strips of desired size, and securely winding them with twine, so that, when dried, a cylindrical form is obtained. Compressed sponges, tampons, etc., may also readily be made by first moistening the sponge with water, then cut or mold it into any shape, or press it into a tube of the required diameter, and immerse it in alcohol of 95 per cent. The sponge permanently retains the shape given to it. To remove this firmness, it is only required to moisten the sponge with water. The National Formulary directs as follows: "Sponge, a sufficient quantity; mucilage of acacia (U. S. P.), 1 volume; water, 9 volumes. Mix a sufficient quantity of mucilage of acacia and of water, in the proportion of 1 volume of the former to 9 volumes of the latter, and immerse in the liquid the sponge, previously freed from sand and other obvious impurities, and cut into suitable pieces. When the sponge has been thoroughly impregnated, firmly wrap twine around it so as to bring it to the desired shape, and then dry it. Note.—Sponge thus prepared is best preserved with the twine wrapped around it. If the twine is removed, special care should be taken to protect the sponge against damp air"—(Nat. Form.).

VEGETABLE SPONGE, GOURD TOWEL.—The fibrillated network of a cucurbitaceous plant, the Luffa aegyptiaca, Miller (Momordica Luffa, Linné). Used like sponge. Also Luffa foetida, Cavanilles , and Luffa Petola, Seringe .

ANTISEPTIC SPONGE.—For information concerning antiseptic sponges, see for example, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1889, pp. 21 and 473.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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