Background: Ethyl chloride topical anesthetic spray is labeled as nonsterile, yet it is widely used during injection procedures performed in an outpatient setting. The purpose of this study was to investigate the sterility of ethyl chloride topical anesthetic spray applied before an injection. Our a priori hypothesis was that application of the spray after the skin has been prepared would not alter the sterility of the injection site.
Methods: We conducted a prospective, blinded, controlled study to assess the effect of ethyl chloride spray on skin sterility. Fifteen healthy adult subjects (age, twenty-three to sixty-one years) were prepared for mock injections into both shoulders and both knees, although no injection was actually performed. Three culture samples were obtained from each site on the skin: one before skin preparation with isopropyl alcohol, one after skin preparation and before application of ethyl chloride, and one after ethyl chloride had been sprayed on the site. In addition, the sterility of the ethyl chloride was tested directly by inoculating cultures with spray from the bottles.
Results: Growth occurred in 70% of the samples obtained before skin preparation, 3% of the samples obtained after skin preparation but before application of ethyl chloride, and 5% of the samples obtained after the injection site had been sprayed with ethyl chloride. The percentage of positive cultures did not increase significantly after application of ethyl chloride (p = 0.65). Spraying of ethyl chloride directly on agar plates resulted in growth on 13% of these plates compared with 11% of the control plates; this difference was also not significant (p = 0.80).
Conclusions: Although ethyl chloride spray is not sterile, its application did not alter the sterility of the injection sites in the shoulder and knee.
New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 140 Bergen Street, ACC D-1768, Newark, NJ 07101. E-mail address for R. Gehrmann: firstname.lastname@example.org