This is real, but is concentration dependent. I do not have any patient injury citations, but the following scenario is related to actual fires –
100% O2 via nasal cannula with petroleum jelly (Vasoline) applied to nostrils will result in an ignition.
We have very good documentation of this when a petroleum jelly is exposed to 100% O2 at 1 bar so it is an easy extrapolation to the above scenario.
Further, we have good examples of fires when the O2 concentration is elevated and there is an ignition source (cigarette).
So, yes; this can be a problem
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From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Mary Beth Mulcahy
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 7:32 AM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Vaseline and oxygen
Just curious about this and thought some people on this list-serve might have some insightful thought on a topic I stumbled upon (and if I were still a teacher would be a fun test questions to throw at students just to get them thinking).
I had a newborn nephew who was recently on portable oxygen. At some point my sister-in-law said you aren't allowed to have perfume or Vaseline near the oxygen because it can catch on fire. This struck me as odd that she would be cautioned this way since she was using some type of solvent soaked pad to clean the spot where she was going to be putting an adhesive for the oxygen tube to be put on my nephew's face.
I have never thought of Vaseline being particularly hazardous, so of course I immediate began to consult with Dr. Google. One of the warnings I found online was:
"Never use oil-based face or hair creams, a hair dryer or an
electric razor. It is possible in certain conditions that the combination
of oxygen, oil-based toiletries and a spark from an electrical
appliance, such as an electric blanket, hair dryer, electric razor or
heating pad, could ignite and cause burns. Never use oil based hair
lubricants, face and hand lotions, petroleum jelly products, or
aerosol sprays. Always use water-based cosmetics or creams." (http://www.firsttoserve.com/files/cylinder_oxy.pdf)
I also thought found the article titled "Dispelling the Petroleum Jelly Myth" (someone posted the article in a forum found here http://respiratorytherapydriven.blogspot.com/2007/11/vaseline-and-oxygen-flame-on.html).
Then I decided to call a real medical doctor (my sister) to ask about it. She said that she doubted there was any hard evidence out there that this is a hazard, but that somewhere, someone had an accident, hospital got sued, and now it is a "risk" that is being mitigated in hospitals (including hers).
Anyone out there done experiments to try and catch Vaseline on fire? Anyone know the case where Vaseline was identified as a root cause in an accident involving a patient being burned?
Beyond a intellectual curiosity on the topic, it makes me wonder how we promote safety and what we ask people to focus on. Is is scientifically based (does it need to be)? Is it a knee jerk reaction? Is it a systematic approach? The cartoon below portrays how some people I have spoken to look at OSHA regulations. The problem is that if this is the view a person has of safety regulations/standards, I believe he or she will lose faith in the regulations, potentially not following them and thus losing the benefit they can provide. (Disclaimer: I put this cartoon here not because it is how I view OSHA regulations, but because i think it can help spur conversation.)
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