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Dangers Of Plasma Plume

"With every plasma treatment, we release a CHEMICAL SOUP into our breathing space.... know the risks....."

Alice X

Hidden Dangers In Plasma Plume

Surgical smoke, or “plume’ as it is often called is a danger to plasma technicians and their clients which is rarely covered in basic training.

What is plasma or surgical plume?

Surgical smoke or a “plume”of smoke is created with the use of laser, ultrasonic scalpels, electrosurgery AND Plasma. It is the wisps of blue/white smoke that you will see created during a treatment.

It can also be called, cautery smoke, diathermy plume, aerosols, or vapour.

Anything that creates heat can produce smoke or aerosols - and pose a health risk.

Although it is a small amount, its danger should not be underestimated.

Many plasma techs are told to simply work in a well ventilated space - this is not adequate education on the risks of plasma plume, nor is it adequate protection for us or our clients.

What’s in a plasma “plume”?

In plasma “plume”, there may be hair and skin particles, viable cells, bacteria, viruses, prions, (proteins with the ability to transmit several fatal and neurodegenerative diseases) and other harmful organisms.

Also, toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing) gases.

The smoke contains many potential risks, including infection of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus).

The smoke causes irritation to the lungs, leading to acute and chronic inflammatory changes. Cytotoxic, genotoxic and mutagenic effects have also been demonstrated.

A long list of chemicals present in surgical smoke have been identified. Two of the chemicals of concern were acrylonitrile and hydrogen cyanide. Acrylonitrile is a volatile, colourless chemical that can be absorbed through the skin and lungs.

Acrylonitrile liberates hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is toxic, colourless and can be absorbed into the lungs, through the skin and via the gastrointestinal tract.

It is an airborne chemical soup

Is is plasma plume dangerous?

YES!!! If the list of contaminants that plasma plume contains isn’t enough of a give away, one study found that inhaling daily smoke during similar procedures was equivalent to smoking 27-30 cigarettes.

Professionals exposed to surgical plume, have higher incidences of sinus problems, eye problems, breathing problems and a higher overall incidence of absence from work due to respiratory illness, regular headaches, nausea, mucous membrane irritations and skin irritations.

It is so dangerous in fact, that in may counties there is legislation to protect staff and patients in clinical settings from the dangers of surgical plume. So you see why it is so important for us as plasma technicians to be educated on the resulting plume, how the plumes are produced and how to reduce or eliminate exposure.

Can’t I just wear a mask to filter the plasma plume?

Sadly no - a mask offers little to no adequate protection. Even N95 or other filtration masks do not filter well enough for protection against the small particle size of ‘plume” and they do not stop the plume from travelling around the room.

Studies have also shown that often these masks do not fit well enough, and increase the incidence of the technician ouching their face, which we also do not want in an environment where we are also aware of blood borne pathogens too.

How do I protect myself and my clients?

In addition to well fitting mask, research bodies recommend the use of filtration systems to evacuate plumes.

The most effective way of protecting yourself, and clients from inhaling the constituents of the smoke plume is to use either an evacuation system, 2-5 cm’s away from the site of plume.

All smoke evacuators should have a high-efficiency filter that collects all smoke generated during the procedure. Plume particles are roughly 0.07 - 0.31 microns in size. This falls squarely within the particle-size range that HEPA filter.

EU regulations (Hepa test standard) deem that HEPA must be able to catch 0.3 to 97%. NASA studies show that they can efficiently capture almost 100% at 0.01 micron

I have an effective and reasonably priced evacuation system that I use for my safety and that of my clients. This can be purchased here

Further Resources:

MRHA - Minimising Harmful Effects

Surgical Smoke - What we know

Surgical Smoke - A Hazard

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Alice X