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Dropper bottle for chloroform, London, England, 1870-1900

Chloroform was used as an anaesthetic to stop the patient feeling pain during surgery. It was administered by inhalation – a few drops were put on a cloth covering the patient’s nose. Chloroform replaced ether as the favoured anaesthetic (ether caused irritation to the lungs and vomiting). Chloroform was both quicker and easier to use as it did not need to be heated. In 1847, James Young Simpson (1811-1870) became the first surgeon to use chloroform as an anaesthetic during childbirth.

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    Glossary: chloroform dropper bottle

    bottle used to hold chloroform and administer a small dose

    Glossary: inhalation

    The drawing of air or other substances into the lungs

    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

    Glossary: chloroform

    A liquid formerly used as a general anaesthetic although no longer used for this purpose as it causes liver damage and affects the heart rate. It is now used in low concentration to treat flatulence.

    Glossary: ether

    A volatile liquid (resulting from the action of sulphuric acid upon alcohol) formerly used as an anaesthetic. Ether was usually inhaled.