Diethyl ether, aka ether or ethoxyethane, is a clear colourless highly flammable liquid. Its chemical formula is C2H5OC2H5. It has a distinctive smell and a low boiling point. [1,2]
Diethyl ether is, and was, used across a range of applications in various industries. Historically it was used as an anaesthetic agent, however it was replaced in the 1960s. It is currently used as a solvent in laboratories, and for plastics, oils, resins, waxes and dyes.
Routes of Exposure 
The main route of exposure to diethyl ether is via inhalation.
Diethyl ether poisoning affects a range of systems, including the nervous and respiratory systems.
Acute Effects 
Severity of symptoms depend on the level and type of exposure.
Swallowing the chemical may result in very serious health complications or death. If the liquid is swallowed and it aspirates into the lungs, it could result in chemical pneumonitis. Ingestion may also cause blurred vision, headaches, dizziness, stupor, and irritation of the mucous membrane. Eye contact with diethyl ether can result in redness, tears and irritation. If a person’s skin is exposed, it can result in cracking, dryness or flaking. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts, abrasions and wounds may cause systemic injury or illness. Inhalation of the chemical may cause dizziness and drowsiness, as well as loss of co-ordination and reflexes, narcosis and vertigo. It could also cause laryngeal spasm, vasodilation, seizures and damage to the kidneys and liver.
Chronic Effects 
Chronic exposure to diethyl ether is toxic to multiple body systems. Long term skin exposure to the chemical can result in irritation, cracking and drying. There is limited evidence that chronic exposure to diethyl ether can cause cumulative health effects. Although it is medically “safe”, repeated exposure can lead to “ether habit”, which resembles chronic alcoholism. Chronic exposure can also lead to sleepiness, dizziness, psychic disturbances and loss of weight and appetite.
First Aid Measures 
Ingestion: DO NOT induce vomiting. Move patient into recovery position. If the person is conscious (and not showing any signs of drowsiness), then you can give them water to rinse their mouth. Contact a medical professional.
- Skin contact: Remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories. Do not re-wear clothing until it has been thoroughly decontaminated. Immediately rinse affected areas with plenty of soap and water. Contact a doctor in the event of continued irritation.
- Eye contact: Flush eyes (including under the eyelids), with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by skilled personnel. Contact a medical professional immediately.
- Inhalation: If the person inhales fumes, combustion products or aerosols, remove them from the contaminated site. Prostheses, such as false teeth, should be removed prior to first aid procedures, as they may block airways. Perform CPR if you are qualified and if the patient is unconscious and not breathing. Use a one-way valve and mask if possible. Immediately contact a medical professional.
- General: Never administer anything by mouth to an unconscious, exposed person.
Exposure Controls/Personal Protection 
Engineering controls: Emergency eyewash fountains and quick-drench areas should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure. Ensure there is adequate ventilation.
- Personal protection: Safety glasses with side shields or chemical goggles, protective and dustproof clothing, gloves (protection class 5 or higher), a P.V.C apron and an appropriate mask or dusk respirator. Do not wear contact lenses as they could absorb chemicals in the air. Wear impervious shoes. Other protection could include barrier cream and skin cleansing cream. For specifications regarding other PPE, follow the guidelines set in your jurisdiction.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a Time Weighted Average (TWA) concentration limit for diethyl ether of 400ppm.
Australia Exposure Standards have set a TWA for diethyl ether of 400ppm.