It evaporates rapidly on exposure to the air, and is very inflammable, as is also the vapor. The odor is very strong, heavy, and peculiar.
Applied to the skin and allowed to evaporate, ether is a refrigerant and local anaesthetic of such power that minor surgical operations are sometimes performed under its local influence; the part to be operated on- as, for instance, a finger - being sprayed with ether until benumbed, a process which requires only a few moments' time.
Internally it has a strong burning taste, is irritant to mucous membrane, and causes salivation through reflex action. In the stomach it acts as a local stimulant and carminative, and also, by reflex action, as a stimulant to the heart, respiratory organs, brain, and intestines.
It is an antispasmodic, anthelmintic, and diaphoretic. When inhaled it first produces a strong irritation of the throat, with a strangled feeling. The cerebrum is first affected by the use of ether as an anaesthetic; the sensory and motor nerves next; the centres of respiration and circulation in the medulla are the last to become influenced, and continue to act, unless the anaesthetic is pushed too far, when the respirations die away, the heart continuing to beat after breathing has stopped. Reflexes from nose (fifth nerve) and rectum are the last to be abolished.
The state of the bladder must be carefully watched in all cases after etherization, as there is often retention of urine. External heat must be plentifully supplied, and the facility with which an insensible patient may be seriously burned by hot-water bottles and bags should be constantly kept in mind. The effects of the ether are allowed to pass off quietly of themselves, plenty of fresh air being secured, any effort at vomiting being best overcome by giving a teaspoonful of very hot water at intervals. If there is no tendency towards collapse, cracked ice in small quantities may be used.
In preparing a patient for etherization, definite orders from the surgeon are always received, and it is only necessary here to speak of the absolute importance of having the stomach, bowels, and bladder entirely empty.
Death from strangulation may be caused by a fragment of vomited food lodging in the windpipe, and the bowels and bladder, if not thoroughly attended to, will empty themselves spontaneously.
Ether is excreted like chloroform, and rapidly. The anaesthetic mixture of Nussbaum is formed of ether 3 parts, alcohol and chloroform each 1 part.