Can I use an ultrasound gel substitute?
A quick search on Google will uncover a host of articles and blog posts about common household items that can serve as a substitute for ultrasound scanning gel. Hand sanitizer, baby oil, hand lotion and vegetable oil are some of the frequently mentioned alternatives, particularly for home fetal monitoring. While these items may be handy when nothing else is available, a high quality ultrasound scanning gel remains the best protocol for diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound procedures.
Ultrasound gel is a couplant that plays an important role in the transmission of ultrasound between the transducer and the skin. It helps to maintain secure contact and prevent air pockets. For maximum acoustic transmission, the couplant must have an acoustic impedance between that of the skin and the face of the transducer. High quality ultrasound gels are manufactured so the sound velocity of the gel is as close as possible to the sound velocity of the skin. This helps avoid refraction in the image.
The use of vegetable oil, mineral oil, or oil-based products, in place of ultrasound scanning gel, can cause damage to, or discoloring of, the transducer. In fact, many warranties provided by manufacturers of ultrasound equipment specifically mention oil-based products as potentially damaging to the transducer.1,2 Items with added fragrances as well as lotions with emollients are also cautioned against. Replacing a transducer that became unusable from a gel substitute is an expensive and inconvenient undertaking. New transducers can cost in the $2,000-$15,000 range. In fact, even refurbished transducers can cost in the thousands of dollars.
Another reason household items aren’t practical in place of ultrasound gel is the lack of control when applying the gel-substitute on a patient in a clinical setting. Very runny products, such as baby or mineral oil, will pour out onto the patient and not stay in place. A high viscosity gel, such as Clear Image Singles® Gel, can be applied on specific areas of the body, or even directly on the transducer if that was preferable for the procedure, without running.
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