Desflurane (2,2,2-trifluoro-1-fluoroethyl-difluoromethyl ether) is a highly fluorinated methyl ethyl ether used for maintenance of general anesthesia. Like halothane, enflurane and isoflurane, it is a racemic mixture of (R) and (S) optical isomers (enantiomers). Together with sevoflurane, it is gradually replacing isoflurane for human use, except in the third world, where its high cost precludes its use. It has the most rapid onset and offset of the volatile anesthetic drugs used for general anesthesia due to its low solubility in blood.
Some drawbacks of desflurane are its low potency, its pungency and its high cost. It may cause tachycardia and airway irritability when administered at concentrations greater than 10 vol%. Due to this airway irritability, desflurane is infrequently used to induce anesthesia via inhalation techniques.
Additionally, desflurane is a greenhouse gas. Anesthesia gases used globally contribute the equivalent of 1 million cars to global warming. Desflurane has a global warming potential of 3714. One tonne of desflurane emitted is equivalent to 3714 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much higher than sevoflurane or isoflurane. Taking into account the different amounts typically used in 1 hour of anesthesia (1 minimal alveolar concentration-hour), desflurane causes 26.8 times the global warming of sevoflurane.
Though it vaporises very readily, it is a liquid at room temperature. Anaesthetic machines are fitted with a specialized anaesthetic vaporiser unit that heats liquid desflurane to a constant temperature. This enables the agent to be available at a constant vapor pressure, negating the effects fluctuating ambient temperatures would otherwise have on its concentration imparted into the fresh gas flow of the anesthesia machine.