Isoflurane Side Effects & Long-Term Exposure

Isoflurane is a general inhalation aesthetic. In healthcare settings, it has two main uses:

  • As a sedative agent, where it’s administered with air or pure oxygen to either induce anaesthesia, or to maintain a state of general anaesthesia that’s been induced by a different drug.
  • As a bronchodilator for patients with acute severe asthma.

Though isoflurane is one of the World Health Organisation’s Essential Medicines, it carries certain risks for both patients and practitioners.

Isoflurane Side Effects

Inhaling isoflurane in its vapour form can lead to a range of side effects, including:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Chest tightness, coughing, and breathing difficulties
  • Confusion along with seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there
  • Unusual levels of excitement, nervousness or restlessness, along with sleeping problems

On rare occasions, inhaling isoflurane can lead to a rapid heartbeat, fainting, blurred vision, dizziness, headaches, and seizures.

Isoflurane is a liquid at room temperature, and in its liquid form its irritating and corrosive. So you should avoid contact with the eyes, skin, or any mucous membranes, and you should follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions should any isoflurane come into contact with these areas.

Isoflurane – Long-Term Exposure

Long-term exposure to isoflurane can lead to a range of chronic conditions. These will vary from person to person, but they may include:

  • Hepatic necrosis and failure
  • Gastrointestinal difficulties
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Malignant hyperthermia
  • Psychiatric conditions including agitation, delirium, altered mood, and mental impairment

Other Isoflurane Safety Considerations

Some studies have raised concerns about the effect that general anaesthetics such as isoflurane might have on young children. When isoflurane is used in combination with anaesthetics such as nitrous oxide, there may be an increased risk of neurodegeneration.

With elderly patients, there are concerns that inhaled anaesthetics, such as isoflurane, may accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, some patients are allergic to isoflurane, and may have a negative reaction if exposed to any levels.

Isoflurane Exposure Risks

If isoflurane is not stored, handled or disposed of properly, it can lead to exposure risks. You should store isoflurane bottles in a well-ventilated area at temperatures between 15 and 30°C, and you should return isoflurane to the storage location immediately after use, always ensuring the bottle’s closed tightly. You can read our full guide to isoflurane storage, handling and disposal.

Beyond this, the risks of isoflurane exposure can come either as a result of a leak (due to faulty equipment, for example), or as a result of human error. Some of the vapour may escape from the ventilator mask before it’s applied to the patient, for instance.

Managing Your Isoflurane Exposure Levels

Workplace exposure monitoring will help you meet your COSHH obligations, and identify whether your staff are being exposed to isoflurane and other hazardous substances wherever they’re stored, used, or disposed of.

We offer a specialist workplace exposure monitoring services that can test for isoflurane exposure levels in your hospital or healthcare settings. Using both continuous monitoring and personal sampling techniques, we can demonstrate how isoflurane levels in the workplace atmosphere vary over the monitoring period. We’ll then provide a comprehensive report including discussions and recommendations based on our findings.

Get in touch for more information about our bespoke air quality monitoring service, or to get a quote.