An alcohol wipe makes a handy antiemetic in the ED

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published September 28, 2018

Key Takeaways

Nauseated patients in the emergency department who inhaled from alcohol prep pads were twice as likely to get relief from symptoms as nauseated patients who sniffed placebo pads, according to a study published online December 8, 2015 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“We love it when we find a cheap, easy, and fast way to bring relief to our patients,” said lead study author Kenneth Beadle, DSc, MPAS, of the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium in San Antonio, TX. “Nausea and vomiting are the chief complaint for nearly 5 million emergency patients every year, so this remedy has the potential to help a lot of people.”

Other research has shown that nasal inhalation of isopropyl alcohol is effective in treating nausea and vomiting in the postoperative setting, but it’s not clear whether isopropyl alcohol effectively treats all patients with nausea or only those patients whose nausea is caused by anesthesia.

“Identification of an antiemetic medication whose therapeutic benefit outperforms placebo in this population would be of great benefit to the ED provider,” the authors wrote.

In this study, researchers recruited a convenience sample of 80 patients who presented to the ED with a chief complaint of nausea or vomiting. Patients were randomized to treatment with an isopropyl alcohol pad or a saline wipe (placebo). The packages were covered with tape to mask identification of the product. The researchers instructed the nauseated patients to inhale deeply through their noses from the pad every 2 to 4 minutes for a maximum of 3 inhalations.

Within 10 minutes, patients reported their nausea level on a verbal scale. Those who inhaled from the alcohol pad had nausea scores that were half that of the patients who sniffed saline solution. Also, the satisfaction score for the patients in the alcohol group was double the satisfaction score for the patients in the placebo group.

“Alcohol wipes are safe and there were no adverse effects,” Dr. Beadle said. “Further research is warranted to test the duration of the effect and performance in comparison to traditional, pharmaceutical antiemetics. That said, the available evidence suggests these alcohol wipes may be a potent tool for relieving nausea and improving satisfaction among our emergency patients.”

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