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Will Sniffing Alcohol Ease Nausea After Surgery?

Nurses who take care of people after surgery know that sniffing alcohol wipes can help ease nausea quickly and easily.
Will Sniffing Alcohol Ease Nausea After Surgery?
First Aid Kit bag with White gauze bandage roll and pad with alcohol prep wipe medical scissors and medical tape isolated on white

Most of the time when we learn about an unusual home remedy, we have no idea how or even whether it works. So we were thrilled last year when we came across an actual placebo-controlled trial of sniffing alcohol wipes to ease nausea in the emergency department. A reader who learned about this remedy in the hospital following surgery wrote to us recently.

Sniffing Alcohol Wipes after Surgery:

Q. After I had surgery, the ICU nurses gave me alcohol wipes to sniff for the nausea. It worked like a charm.

When I was sent to another floor for my last day, I asked for the alcohol packets. The nurse on that floor asked in shock, “WHY are you sniffing alcohol?” It’s funny how nursing staff from one department may not know about the simple practices another department uses to help their patients. I explained to her that the ICU nurses had recommended it. She still looked skeptical but at least didn’t remove the packets.

I went home the next day with a few packets at the ready but was hardly bothered by nausea by then. We now keep some in our home first aid kit.

The Science on Alcohol Aromatherapy:

A. Emergency physicians conducted a randomized placebo-controlled trial of sniffing alcohol wipes compared to the powerful antiemetic ondansetron (April et al, Annals of Emergency Medicine, Aug. 2018). The researchers gave 40 patients both alcohol aromatherapy and ondansetron. Moreover, 41 of the patients used alcohol aromatherapy and took a placebo pill. In the third arm of the study, 41 other volunteers sniffed saline solution from packets and took ondansetron. 

The investigators concluded:

“…aromatherapy with or without oral ondansetron provides greater nausea relief than oral ondansetron alone.”

If you have ever tried this remedy, please tell us about your experience. In addition, if you know of a different remedy for a common problem and you don’t think we have written about it, we’d love to be enlightened.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • April et al, "Aromatherapy versus oral ondansetron for antiemetic therapy among adult emergency department patients: A randomized controlled trial." Annals of Emergency Medicine, Aug. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2018.01.016
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