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Formaldehyde exposure?

So...I've spent the last couple of afternoons in an anatomy lab, with some brains in buckets :D (a course I was on).

Amazing (I have held a brain in my hand!) but...they keep them in formaldehyde. Well, formalin, techically, but it has formaldehyde in it...

Anyway...I didn't really worry about it that much before - wondered vaguely if it might be an issue but was more worried about whether to wear contacts as the protocol sheet mentioned something about this (was fine in the end with them). The smell in the air wasn't too bad, and apart from a bit of coughing when the buckets were opened I was ok on the first day. Second day I had less exposure (we were looking at models and pics more though the actual brains were still out), but lungs seemed to be complaining more and they seemed rather unhappy last night and today!

It's not too bad, but was a bit surprised given it was ok on the first day so figured I wasn't going to have an issue. Maybe it builds up, but 2 days? - I know there are medical students on here with what sounds like much worse asthma than mine, who presumably have managed to get through whole terms of working round formalin without expiring?!

So 2 afternoons doesn't seem like it would be enough to set things off (maybe if it had been a week?). I don't want to be a massive hypochondriac about it, especially as I don't normally spend time in anatomy labs - my course focuses on cognitive functions so nice non-smelly MRIs - but would be good to know more about other people's experiences/precautions you take in case I do 'wet-lab' things again - I did enjoy it!

2 Replies

Glad you enjoyed playing with brains!

I managed to survive a year of anatomy, dissecting a whole body, in med school (lots of fun!) although don't know if my managing strategy will help :s

Despite how much I enjoyed playing surgeon, I ended up spending most of my time in the task room (aka not near formaldehyde smell) attached to a neb! It became a bit of a joke in our group! I did find that prosections didn't set me off quite as much as they were older and had dried out a bit more so didn't smell as much, which was lucky as that's what they used for my exams.

Only advice would be to ensure there's good ventilation and to use reliever beforehand and take breaks away if your breathing becomes too troublesome. So however you would deal with any other trigger!

Sorry not much help really, hope it doesn't affect you so much that you can't enjoy the hands on experience.

B x


Thanks - glad you survived! :D

That is all good advice - I was just hanging on and determined to make the most of my brain time...plus we had these stupid plastic aprons which were hard to tie. Not the best reason for not taking breaks, but I guess also since it seemed ok the first day I didn't think I needed to even when I was struggling a little on the second day! But lungs didn't stop me enjoying it luckily.

I've finished the course now, but next time I get to play with brains (and how I hope there will be a next time!) I'll be a bit more careful! They didn't really mention anything at all about ventilation, breathing it in etc beforehand and I didn't want to kick up a huge fuss as my asthma's not that bad. But next time clearly I'll need to recognise that a pungent substance known to have respiratory effects might possibly have a less than brilliant effect on someone who already has asthma and is triggered by strong scents/paint smells etc...who'd have thought it? ;)


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