Patient Care

Isopropyl Alcohol Nasal Inhalation Effective Treatment for ED Nausea


Clinical question: Does inhaled isopropyl alcohol alleviate nausea as compared to inhaled saline solution among patients presenting to the ED with a chief complaint of nausea?

Background: Nausea and vomiting account for 4.8 million ED visits each year; however, antiemetics have not shown superiority compared to placebo. Isopropyl alcohol nasal inhalation is more effective than saline solution in treating postoperative nausea and vomiting; however, there have been no investigations of this therapy in the ED setting.

Study design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Setting: Emergency department at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Texas.

Synopsis: Investigators randomized a convenience sample of 80 patients in the ED presenting with nausea or vomiting to either inhaled isopropyl alcohol (37) or saline solution (43). Subjects would nasally inhale at 0, 2, and 4 minutes. Nausea outcomes were self-rated on a scale of 0–10, with 0 being no nausea and 10 being worst nausea imaginable. Responses were taken at 0, 2, 4, 6, and 10 minutes postintervention. Primary outcome was the score at 10 minutes postintervention. The minimally significant difference was two points.

Patients in the intervention arm reported lower scores during every study period than the patients in the placebo arm. Median nausea scores at 10 minutes postintervention were lower by three in the intervention arm compared to placebo arm (P<0.001). Limitations include the short (10-minute) evaluation period, which limits identification of any adverse events; limited information on duration of symptom relief and whether the isopropyl alcohol effect persisted; possible selection bias due to utilizing a convenience sample; and use of a subjective scale for the primary outcome.

Bottom line: Isopropyl alcohol inhalation is effective in reducing nausea 10 minutes after intervention as compared with placebo in the ED setting.

Citation: Beadle KL, Helbling AR, Love SL, April MD, Hunter CJ. Isopropyl alcohol nasal inhalation for nausea in the emergency department: a randomized controlled trial [published online ahead of print November 21, 2015]. Ann Emerg Med. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2015.09.031.

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