Understanding the Risks of Surgical Smoke aka Bovie Smoke!

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By Jennifer Landis

At this very moment, someone is having surgery. According to the National Center of Health Statistics, over 51.4 million surgical procedures are performed each year.

OR team surgeryThe vast majority of these procedures are deemed a total success for the patients. However, unintended health risks for the surgical team can often occur even without the patient’s knowledge. Electrosurgical units can generate what is commonly referred to as Bovie smoke.

Researchers have found that Bovie smoke can contain carcinogens that trigger allergic reactions and in some cases cause long-term respiratory health issues. Because of these risks, it is vital for every member of a surgical team to understand the dangers and take preventive measures to ensure their own personal safety.

The Particulates Within

The list of potentially dangerous particulates contained within surgical smoke is an alarmingly long one. These particulates can include:

  • Blood fragments
  • Viable bloodborne pathogens
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Gases
  • Vapors
  • Lung-damaging dust

A few of those airborne gases have been identified as having mutagenic potential and being a known carcinogenic. The size of the particulate itself can vary between 0.07 to 6.5 micrometers. As a point of comparison, particles that are less than 5 micrometers have been known to trigger asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. That same surgical smoke can also generate a pungent odor that often results in headaches and eye, nose and throat irritation.

There is also a concern about HIV, HPV and hepatitis contamination. Electrocautery is often the prescribed method for the treatment of genital warts. Cervical neoplasia is also treated with this method. As a result, the smoke generated during those procedures can potentially generate a viral transfer to the surgical staff.

A Patient Problem

Certain laparoscopic procedures have been found to create a level of carbon monoxide. When absorbed by the patient, this substance can cause complications to post-operative recovery. It doesn’t take much for elevated levels of carboxyhemoglobin to cause nausea, headaches, dizziness and weakness.

The Smoke Evacuation Measures

Once the problem created by Bovie smoke was identified by researchers, recommendations to mitigate the effects were put in place. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established parameters that should be adopted when surgical smoke is generated. They suggest that any smoke evacuator system be able to pull in 50 cubic feet per minute. The smoke evacuator nozzle used during procedures should be stationed within two inches of the actual surgical site. Surgical masks are also recommended for use throughout the procedure and even during the cleanup of the room while the smoke evacuation is still ongoing.

If you’re part of a surgical team that doesn’t have smoke evacuation procedures in place, then you should find out why. Also, consider reviewing the maintenance reports on the evacuations instruments in current use. Just because a machine is being operated doesn’t mean it has been serviced or that the filters are clean. Ultimately, you are in charge of your safety.

jennifer landisJennifer Landis is a health journalist and the editor of MissRX.com and Mindfulness Mama.com. She is passionate about health, wellness, and the human body and loves to dig deep to find the facts on the latest health trends. When she is not writing and editing you will likely find her at home trying to keep up with her toddler, whipping up something healthy in the kitchen, or watching Dr. Who with her husband. 

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