Insufflation (Latin: insufflare, lit. 'to blow into') is the act of blowing something (such as a gas, powder, or vapor) into a body cavity. Insufflation has many medical uses, most notably as a route of administration for various drugs.
Nasal inhalation of recreational drugs ("snorting") is often considered an example of insufflation, though the etymology and scientific understanding of the term does not include inhalation of any kind, as blowing requires the application of positive pressure to push the substance into the nose, whereas inhaling refers to drawing or sucking in, which requires the generation of negative pressure in the thorax.
Gases are often insufflated into a body cavity to inflate the cavity for more workroom, e.g. during laparoscopic surgery. The most common gas used in this manner is carbon dioxide, because it is non-flammable and colorless and dissolves readily in blood. It is, however, not an inert gas.
Oxygen can be insufflated into the nose by nasal cannulae to assist in respiration.
Mechanical insufflation-exsufflation simulates a cough and assists airway mucus clearance. It is used with patients with neuromuscular disease and muscle weakness due to central nervous system injury.
Pump inhalers for asthmatics deliver aerosolized drugs into the lungs via the mouth. However, the insufflation by the pump is not adequate for delivery to the lungs, necessitating an active inhalation by the patient.
Anesthesia and critical care
Insufflated gases and vapors are used to ventilate and oxygenate patients (oxygen, air, helium), and to induce, assist in or maintain general anaesthesia (nitrous oxide, xenon, volatile anesthetic agents).
Nasal drug administration
Nasal insufflation is the most common method of nasal administration. Other methods are nasal inhalation (common in recreational use) and nasal instillation. Drugs administered in this way can have a local effect or a systemic effect. The time of onset for systemic drugs delivered via nasal administration is generally only marginally slower than if given intravenously. The bioavailability of drugs administered nasally is generally significantly higher than drugs taken orally.
Examples of drugs given
- Steroids (local effect) and anti-asthma medication
- Hormone replacement
- Decongestants (local effect)
- Nicotine replacement
- Migraine medication
- ADHD medications such as methylphenidate
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