Ether anesthesia

Definiton – What is ether anesthesia?

Ether anesthesia is considered the first form of anesthesia and thus represents the birth of anesthesia. It was first used by an American doctor in 1842. Ether (also known as diethyl ether) is a colourless chemical compound that is gaseous at room temperature. This form of anaesthesia is no longer used today due to its numerous side effects and the danger of the gas exploding.

Is it still in use?

Ether anesthesia is no longer used today because it has many unwanted side effects. Furthermore, ether as a gas is highly inflammable and can explode in the presence of oxygen. Until a few years ago, the use of ether as an anaesthetic was still common in some developing countries, as it was a cheap alternative to other means. In 2005, the WHO removed ether from the list of essential drugs and ether is hardly available today.

Until when was ether anesthesia used?

From its first application in 1846 onwards, ether was used regularly in America and Europe, despite some sometimes serious side effects. But already in 1831 Justus Liebig had discovered chloroform, which soon began to compete with ether. Nevertheless, until a few years ago, ether anaesthesia was a cost-effective alternative to other anaesthetics, especially in developing countries. Today, however, ether is hardly available and is no longer used.

Effect of ether anesthesia

In the past, a sponge was dipped into liquid ether for ether anaesthesia and the gases were then fed to the patient via a hose system. Even in small doses, ether switches off the processing of pain in the brain and inhibits muscle reflexes. In higher doses, ether first leads to a state of excitement and then to apathetic states in which the patient is no longer responsive.

Side effects of ether anesthesia

The side effects of ether anesthesia are mainly nausea and vomiting after anesthesia, similar to a hangover after alcohol consumption. Too high doses of ether can lead to paralysis of the respiratory centre. In the early stages of ether anaesthesia, choking on vomit or saliva or obstruction of the airway through the tongue was also common. However, these complications occurred before the possibility of ventilation by intubation. Another reason why ether anesthesia is no longer used today is the long decay time after ether anesthesia and the poor controllability of the anesthesia.

History / Inventor

The first documented ether anesthesia was on 30. 03. 1842 by the general practitioner Crawford Williamson Long.

Before that, operations were performed, if necessary, without any form of anaesthesia. However, Long did not report on his success. On October 16, 1846, the dentist William Thomas Green Morton and a surgeon held a public demonstration under ether anesthesia.

Morton is therefore considered the inventor of ether anesthesia and this day is considered the birthday of anesthesia. In the further history of ether anesthesia, however, deaths by suffocation occurred again and again, as there was no possibility of securing the airway by intubation. It was not until the Second World War that it was common practice to keep the airway clear with the help of a tube.

Shortly after its discovery, however, ether anesthesia began to face competition from the chloroform discovered by Justus Liebig. In the 1960s, the ether was largely replaced by halothane as a gaseous anaesthetic.