Development of Inhalant Anesthetics
Oral and inhalant anesthetics were utilized historically by Muslim anesthesiologists, and the use of these preparations was well known in the Islamic Empire. Several hundred surgical operations were performed which used sponges soaked in narcotic preparations, placed over the face of the individual undergoing surgery.
In the Western world, the development of inhalant anesthetics, along with the use of sterile surgical techniques developed by Joseph Lister, was one of the main keys to performing successful surgery in the nineteenth century.
During the nineteenth century, both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide were used in experimental surgical procedures. While the use of carbon dioxide as an anesthetic never became popular, nitrous oxide did in fact become very widely used.
The anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide were first noted by Humphry Davy, a British chemist, in a paper published in 1800. However, it was not until several decades later in the 1840s that nitrous oxide became more widely used. One of the first successful uses of the gas for painless tooth extraction was carried out by American dentist William Thomas Green Morton, in 1846.
During the same decade, an inhalant anesthetic called diethyl ether was also used for tooth extraction. Diethyl ether was originally synthesized by German physician Valerius Cordus in 1540; however it was not until the 1840s that the first public demonstration of the use of ether occurred. A decade earlier, in the 1830s, chloroform had also been developed. This became more popular in Britain, but even so the dangers of both ether and chloroform were well-noted.
Modern anesthetics are of two types: general and local anesthetics. Local anesthetics include substances such as lidocaine and procaine. These work by preventing transmission of nerve impulses in the area where the anesthetic is administered. General anesthetics, on the other hand, are more similar in nature to nitrous oxide in their method of delivery, and in fact this inhalant anesthetic is still in use. Inhalation anesthetics are usually fluorochemicals (isoflurane, sevoflurane and desflurane) that have much lower flammability than diethyl ether, thus they are much safer to use in the operating room.
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