Menthol is one of the most important active ingredients in a variety of medicinal products including topical analgesics like Biofreeze. As research into the medicinal potentials of menthol continues, the ways in which it enhances various medical processes becomes increasingly apparent. This article discusses an exciting instance of how menthol enhances the efficacy of medical procedures that require a more quickly acting and deeper penetration of the skin: the application of tetracaine gel.
Tetracaine, when used topical anesthetic, sometimes known as "T-gel". It is prescribed widely under the trade names Dicaine and Pontocaine. Clinicians will often apply T-gel to patients who must undergo eye, spinal surgery, or various types of catheterization procedures. In a 2005 study published under Yi Liu in The International Journal of Pharmaceutics, "Menthol facilitates the skin analgesic effect of tetracaine gel," research demonstrates that a mixture of T-gel and menthol solves a number of existing difficulties with topical anesthetics typically applied during certain surgical procedures. This is especially true for procedures that require deep penetration of the surface of the skin in order to reach internal organs.
The more quickly and deeply a topical anesthetic can permeate the skin, the more useful it is to surgeons. One popular topical anesthetic, EMLA cream, works well. The cream takes about an hour to begin working and remains effective for approximately 30 to 60 minutes. While T-gel works faster and packs a more significant anesthetic punch than EMLA cream, it does not penetrate the skin as deeply.
Introducing some portion of menthol into a solution containing T-gel compensates for this difficulty to some degree. When combined with tetracaine, menthol acts as a type of "vehicle", allowing tetracaine to permeate the natural cellular barriers in the skin that allow it to deliver its anesthetic payload. When mixed, T-gel and menthol produce a more deeply penetrating, more powerful and more quickly acting anesthetic.
For this reason, the solution becomes especially useful for "percutaneous" catheterizations. In other words, it is useful for surgeries that require a direct puncturing through the skin and the tissue underneath it in order to penetrate directly into the body's internal organs. Because menthol is relatively innocuous in comparison to other, synthetically produced anesthetics, those who conducted the study predict that, in time, menthol will find its way into a number of other anesthetic products.
Expect to see more mentions in health news publications about these advances in the near future.