Chlorhexidine Gluconate (CHG), Hibiclens (4% CHG with 4% Isopropyl Alcohol Detergent), and Chloraprep (i.e. labeled CHG-based solutions), utilized as preoperative surgical preparatory solutions may all cause severe oculotoxicity and ototoxicity. Alternatively, 10% Povidone-Iodine (PI) solutions without detergent demonstrate minimal toxic effects on the eyes and ears.
Based on studies from 1984 to 2021, we compared the safety/efficacy of CHG-based versus PI-based solutions utilized for presurgical skin preparation near the cornea/eyes and ears (i.e., predominantly for cranial or cervical spine surgery).
Some studies documented that even minimal exposure (i.e., “splash risk”) during face/neck skin preparation with CHG-based solutions could result in irreversible corneal injury and ototoxicity. Within minutes to hours, CHG-based non-detergent solutions posed the risks of; corneal epithelial edema, anterior stromal edema, conjunctival chemosis, bullous keratopathy, and de-epithelialization. Notably, even occlusive dressings like Tegaderm could not protect against CHG penetration. Alternatively, PI-based solutions posed no to minimal ocular and/or ototoxicity, while often demonstrating comparable protection against surgical site infections (SSI).
Chlorhexidine Gluconate (CHG), Hibiclens, and Chloraprep (i.e. CHG-based solutions) are often used as skin preparations near the face/eyes/spine (i.e., particularly anterior/posterior cervical procedures). However, if these solutions come in contact with the eyes, corneal irritation, abrasions, and even blindness may result. Alternatively, PI non-detergent solutions demonstrate safety/minimal oculotoxicity/ototoxicity, while frequently showing comparable efficacy against SSI.

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