How to combat surgical smoke

Any business working with lasers, electro-surgical pencils, ultrasonic devices or other surgical energy-based devices will be in regular contact with surgical smoke. The following guide outlines why you should be taking measures to limit your exposure:

shutterstock_215929432Defining surgical smoke

According to a report by surgical smoke evacuation specialists Buffalo Filter, around 95% of surgical procedures will produce at least some degree of surgical plume — a gaseous material that is created when medical instruments cauterize vessels and vaporize blood, fluid and tissue.

This material can be both seen and smelled and also goes by names such as cautery smoke, diathermy plume, aerosols, bio-aerosols, vapour and air contaminants.

Why should I be concerned about surgical smoke?

In the research piece ‘Surgical smoke — a health hazard in the operating theatre: a study to quantify exposure and a survey of the use of smoke extractor systems in UK plastic surgery units’ authored by Hill DS, O’Neill JK, Powell RJ and Oliver DW, it was suggested that on average the surgical smoke produced on a daily basis in an operating room was the equivalent of between 27 and 30 cigarettes.

Furthermore, the ‘Surgical smoke and infection control’ study published by Alp E, Biji D, Bleichrodt RP, Hansson A and Voss A acknowledged that surgical smoke poses all of the following health risks:

  • Acute and chronic inflammatory changes in respiratory tract (including emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis)
  • Anaemia
  • Carcinoma
  • Cardiovascular dysfunction
  • Colic
  • Dermatitis
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Hepatitis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Hypoxia/dizziness
  • Lacrimation
  • Light-headedness
  • Leukaemia
  • Nasopharyngeal lesions
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Throat irritation

Of course, the build-up of surgical smoke in a confined space will also reduce visibility — an obvious concern when carrying out medical procedures.

Protecting yourself from surgical smoke

There are solutions available to enhance your protection from surgical smoke.

Anyone operating with lasers, electro-surgical pencils, ultrasonic devices or other surgical energy-based devices should be required to use the following protective personal equipment:

  • Surgical masks — These will protect against both microorganisms and aerosolised body fluids.
  • Respirators — These high-filtration masks provide protection to droplets and particles down to 0.1μm and so will aid in preventing exposure to many airborne infectious agents.

Another efficient solution for reducing the hazards of surgical smoke is to set up portable smoke evacuation systems around operating rooms. The Laservac™ range developed by Walker Filtration stands out, as the product not only manages the release of smoke plume but are also supplied with medical lasers — a design element that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called for on these items.