Mastodon Alcohol Pad = Aromatherapy = Nausea Relief? ~ Pallimed

Monday, September 24, 2018

Alcohol Pad = Aromatherapy = Nausea Relief?

by Bob Arnold (@rabob)

In general, I am a cynic and a nihilist. That means when reviewing the literature, I find most glasses half empty rather than half full (OK, probably this is true in life, but that is TMI). I am very unlikely to try a new treatment based on one study.

For every rule, however, there is an exception. I am completely enthralled with aromatherapy and thus found an article in the Annals of Emergency Medicine by Beadle on isopropyl alcohol nasal inhalation for nausea in the emergency department. It was a randomized controlled trial which made it swoon-worthy. The only problem was it was a placebo trial and so my friend(s) pooh-poohed the article. I was thrilled to see the follow-up, double-blind RTC article by April: “Aromatherapy Versus Oral Ondansetron for Antiemetic Therapy Among Adult Emergency Department Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” in February 2018, again in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The fact that it was positive means that anyone who I talk to has to hear about it (as well as how they must watch Nanette and how excited I am about the new season of The Good Place).

The aim of the 2018 study was to compare nasally inhaled isopropyl alcohol versus oral ondansetron (aka Zofran) for the treatment of nausea among emergency medicine patients. They looked at 120 adult patients with nausea or vomiting who did not require an IV. The patients who were randomized into the three groups: (1) isopropyl alcohol plus 4 mg of oral ondansetron; (2) isopropyl alcohol plus oral placebo; (3) inhale saline plus 4 mg of ondansetron. (They did not do a double placebo because there is placebo-controlled data that both drugs work). The isopropyl alcohol was a commercially prepared, medical pad placed 1-2 cm from the patient’s nose and the patient was instructed to nasally breathe to inhale the isopropyl alcohol. Measurements were made at 10, 20, 30, and 60 minutes and then hourly until disposition using a 0-10 cm visual, analog scale.

Mean nausea scores decreased 30 mm in the alcohol and ondansetron group, 32 mg in the alcohol placebo group, and 9 mm in the saline ondansetron group (this was statistically different). Patients in the isopropyl alcohol groups also had better nausea control at the time of discharge and higher satisfaction with no adverse events.

On to the evaluation questions:

Was this study valid?

The assignment of patients to treatment was evenly randomized. All of the patients who entered the study were accounted for at the conclusion and there was complete follow-up. They asked the patients and clinicians if they could tell what group they were in (they could not). The patients seemed to be treated in an identical manner. Rescue antiemetics were less common in the groups who got the isopropyl alcohol versus the ondansetron alone.

Were the results clinically important?

The investigators used 20 mm as a clinically significant result, which seemed to be reasonable. They did not make any adjustment for compounding variables, but I really was not sure what the confounding variables should be; this seemed reasonable.

The problem with the study is the question whether the results will help me care for my patients. My patients are not young, relatively, healthy individuals with viral illnesses who do not need an IV. That is unclear and if I am being my normal, cynical self, I probably should just move on!

On the other hand, given that this trial has absolutely no side effects and I can carry alcohol swabs around in my coat, I stick with my love of this article. I mean seriously, why wouldn’t you try this in the hospital on patients with nausea and vomiting.

So, I am going to urge you to watch Nanette, the Good Place and carry around isopropyl alcohol swabs in your pocket on rounds. Tell me if you think I am wrong!

Robert Arnold, MD is a palliative care doctor at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-founder of VitalTalk (@VitalTalk). He loves both high and low brow comedy (The Good Place and Nanette), pop culture (the National Enquirer and Pop Culture Happy hour) and music of all kinds (not opera tho!) You can find him on Twitter at @rabob. 

More Pallimed posts from Bob Arnold can be found here. More journal article reviews can be found here. More posts on nausea can be found here.


Beadle KL, Helbling AR, Love SL, April MD, Hunger CJ. Isopropyl Alcohol Nasal Inhalation for Nausea in the Emergency Department: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann of Emergency Med. 206: 68 (1):1-10

Hines S, Steels E, Chang A, et al. Aromatherapy for treatment of postoperative nausea and vomiting. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(4):CD007598.

April MD, Oliver JJ, Davis WT, Ong D, Simon EM, Ng PC, Hunter CJ. Aromatherapy Versus Oral Ondansetron for Antiemetic Therapy Among Adult Emergency Department Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann of Emergency Med.

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