What is an Ampoule?

9th June 2021

Blog

Many types of medicines and other pharmaceutical products, especially injectables like vaccines, are packaged in ampoules. Ampoules are small hermetically sealed glass containers that protect the contents from exposure to air and contaminants. They’re single use only, making them disposable and non-resealable. 

Key takeaways

  • Ampoules are mainly used to store precise amount of medications
  • They are hermetically sealed, protecting their contents from contamination
  • Various routes are available for administering medications from ampoules
An ampoule with an injection is in the foreground. Behind, on a blurred background, stand several ampoules and a syringe

How to Use an Ampoule

Trained paramedics, nurses, and doctors are usually the ones who are qualified to administer medications from ampoules. However, if you have a maintenance medication, such as insulin, that is typically packaged in an ampoule, and you’ll need proper instructions and demonstrations from a trained healthcare professional on how to use an ampoule.

Generally, medical ampoules contain between 1ml and 10ml liquid solutions that need to be extracted using a syringe. These medications have precise dosages and intended routes of administration, which include:

  • Subcutaneous: The medication or solution is injected just under the dermis (a layer of skin) at an angle of about 45 degrees. Some of the common medications that are administered subcutaneously are insulin, opioids, heparin, epinephrine, and allergy medication.
  • Intradermal: This involves injecting the medication or solution into the dermis just under the epidermis at angles between 10 and 15 degrees. Medications or solutions administered through this route take the longest to be absorbed. It’s commonly used for allergy tests, sensitivity tests, and local anaesthesia applications.
  • Intramuscular: With this, the muscle is the target delivery site of the medication or solution. Medication is injected at an angle of 90 degrees. Antibiotics, hormonal agents, vaccines, and toxoids are commonly administered through this route.
  • Intravenous: Commonly abbreviated as IV, this is an injection route that places the medication or solution into a vein through an existing IV line. The medication is given either intermittently or continuously. Antifungal drugs, antibiotics, and pain medications are commonly administered through this route for the fastest action.

Step 1: Check the medication

Checking the appropriateness of the medicine and dosage is the first thing that a medical professional does before opening an ampoule and administering its content. A healthcare professional must confirm the following:

  • The medication is the right one
  • The dose is the one prescribed
  • The time is correct to administer the medication
  • The route is the proper one
  • The patient is the right person to receive the medication

A medical professional usually knows the best route to inject the medication based on the prescription, the medical condition of the patient, and the type of medication.

Step 2: Ensure proper hygiene

The next step is to ensure proper hygiene. A professional healthcare provider like a nurse would wash their hands with soap and water, or at least use a 70% solution of rubbing alcohol. This is crucial to protect not only the patient against possible infection, but the healthcare professional as well.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent, extra precautions are taken when administering vaccines from ampoules. For example, wearing a mask and a pair of surgical gloves act as extra forms of protection.

After ensuring hygiene standards have been met, the healthcare provider would then gather the supplies, which include the ampoule, a syringe with a needle, a filter straw, gauze, and an alcohol solution. The filter straw is necessary to prevent any glass particles from being drawn into the syringe. 

Step 3: Check and clean the ampoule

Before breaking the ampoule, the healthcare professional makes sure there are no cracks on the ampoule. The solution is also checked for any possible impurities, like floating particles, or any discolouration.

All of the fluid must be in the bottom of the ampoule, not accumulating in the neck. A gentle tap against the ampoule allows the fluid to completely settle at the bottom. The ampoule is then cleaned using the alcohol preparation. It’s particularly important to clean the neck of the ampoule where the scored break line is located.

Step 4: Break the ampoule

If you are the one to break the ampoule, use a gauze to prevent injury. To break open the ampoule, hold the neck and snap it at the scored break line.

Step 5: Use the syringe

The filter straw then needs to be screwed onto the syringe to draw the liquid from the ampoule. Draw the required amount of fluid, tap the syringe, and squirt a bit of the liquid to remove the air bubbles. Then unscrew the filter straw, connect the needle to the syringe, and squirt a bit of the fluid to remove the air inside the needle. It’s now ready to use.

What Does an Ampoule Do?

Unlike other types of containers, ampoules are hermetically sealed – meaning they are made airtight – and are designed for single use only. The hermetic seal ensures that no outside contaminants can compromise the solution inside. 

Compared to resealable containers and vials for injectables, ampoules have a simpler design and are completely sealed. Larger ampoules are used to contain solid chemicals like highly reactive metallic elements, such as sodium, or radioactive materials. 

Some ampoules have special glass coatings or are made of smoked glass to protect their contents from light. Photosensitive chemicals, like many 14-dihydromorphinone opioids, are packaged in ampoules made from smoked glass.

How Are Ampoules Filled?

Automated and specialised machines are used on an industrial scale to fill and seal ampoules. These machines are designed to melt and shape the glass. Some laboratories also have smaller machines that are capable of filling and sealing prefabricated ampoules.

Machines that are used for filling and sealing ampoules can be categorised into three groups:

  • Automatic machines
  • Semi automatic machines
  • Manual hand-operated machines

Prefabricated blank ampoules are commercially available from scientific glass supply houses. These can be sealed using a small gas torch in a laboratory.

A common procedure used in filling ampoules is the Schlenk line procedure. Here, atmospheric air is removed while inert gas is pumped into the ampoules before and after filling liquid into them.

Disclaimer

All content published on the ReAgent.co.uk blog is for information only. The blog, its authors, and affiliates cannot be held responsible for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from using the information provided. Additionally, we do not recommend using any chemical without reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which can be obtained from the manufacturer. You should also follow any safety advice and precautions listed on the product label. If you have health and safety related questions, visit HSE.gov.uk.

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