Patient Care

PHM15: Effective Intranasal Sedation


Presenters: Kelly Basaldua, MD; Daniel Sedillo, MD, MBA, and Jason Reynolds, MD


In an environment where medicine is becoming ever more specialized and the scope of practice for many is ever narrowing into corridors of expertise, the hospitalist remains a bastion of generalism with an ever-diversifying skill set. One of the skills acquired by many hospitalists to aid in the overall efficiency of the hospital is intranasal (IN) sedation.

Intranasal sedation is becoming more popular given the rapid onset and offset and the relative safety of the sedation of patients without the need for intravenous catheters. This phenomenon is accomplished by avoiding the gut and thus avoiding first-pass metabolism. This allows for greatly increased bioavailability compared with oral administration. In addition, the nasal mucosa is in near direct contact with the CSF via the cribriform plate, allowing for rapid and effective action.

To maximize the effectiveness of intranasal sedation, low volumes with high concentrations, atomization, and minimal nasal occlusion are vital. The ideal volume per nostril is approximately 0.5 ml as using any greater volume results in oversaturation and minimal additional absorption. Thus, concentrating the medications into minimal volumes provides for more efficacious usage. Atomization aids in ensuring thorough surface area coverage and higher absorption. This is a far more efficacious method of delivery than liquid/drop administration.

Because intranasally administered agents have a delayed and widened serum peak compared to IV, IN sedation carries less of a chance to reach serum levels high enough to cause respiratory depression, though monitoring is still necessary. When compared to IV sedation, IN does have a delay in onset, but also provides for a more gentle recovery process, often resulting in a less disorienting recovery for the patient, while also providing for a wider safety profile.

The presenters covered three primary agents:

  • midazolam,
  • dexmedetomidine, and
  • fentanyl

Midazolam is useful for non-painful, minimally invasive procedures. Fentanyl is more useful for painful or more invasive procedures. Dexmedetomidine is off-label use for intranasal sedation at this time, but has promising initial research given its safety profile and longer duration of action compared to most intranasal agents. Also, dexmedetomidine works extremely effectively in combination with other agents, particularly midazolam, to prolong sedations, making it very useful for longer procedures like combination MRIs.

The presenters then provided a practical workshop to practice the delivery of intranasal medication effectively. One of the pearls provided involved proper positioning of the patient in a reclined position as sitting to erect will cause the medication to drip out and having the patient lying flat will result in the medication dripping down the posterior pharynx. This position should be held for 30 seconds after delivery of the medication. Practicing with atomizers to achieve effective aerosolization was discussed. The target of medication should avoid the nasal septum given its poor absorption.

Key Takeaway:

With hospitalists being called to assist in ever-expanding roles within the hospital system while improving efficiency and throughput, intranasal sedation may provide reduced imaging wait times, bedside and ED procedure times in a safe and effective manner. TH

Dr. Crook is a hospitalist in the division of hospitalist medicine, assistant professor of pediatrics, and assistant pediatric clerkship director in the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

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