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Medical uses

Mannitol is used to reduce acutely raised intracranial pressure until more definitive treatment can be applied, e.g., after head trauma.

It may also be used for certain cases of kidney failure with low urine output, decreasing pressure in the eye, to increase the elimination of certain toxins, and to treat fluid build up.

Intraoperative mannitol prior to vessel clamp release during renal transplant has been shown to reduce post-transplant kidney injury, but has not been shown to reduce graft rejection.

Mannitol acts as an osmotic laxative in oral doses larger than 20 g, and is sometimes sold as a laxative for children.

The use of mannitol, when inhaled, as a bronchial irritant as an alternative method of diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma has been proposed. A 2013 systematic review concluded evidence to support its use for this purpose at this time is insufficient.

Mannitol is commonly used in the circuit prime of a heart lung machine during cardiopulmonary bypass. The presence of mannitol preserves renal function during the times of low blood flow and pressure, while the patient is on bypass. The solution prevents the swelling of endothelial cells in the kidney, which may have otherwise reduced blood flow to this area and resulted in cell damage.

Mannitol can also be used to temporarily encapsulate a sharp object (such as a helix on a lead for an artificial pacemaker) while it passes through the venous system. Because the mannitol dissolves readily in blood, the sharp point becomes exposed at its destination.

Mannitol is also the first drug of choice to treat acute glaucoma in veterinary medicine. It is administered as a 20% solution intravenously. It dehydrates the vitreous humor and, therefore, lowers the intraocular pressure. However, it requires an intact blood-ocular barrier to work.

Food

Mannitol increases blood glucose to a lesser extent than sucrose (thus having a relatively low glycemic index) so is used as a sweetener for people with diabetes, and in chewing gums. Although mannitol has a higher heat of solution than most sugar alcohols, its comparatively low solubility reduces the cooling effect usually found in mint candies and gums. However, when mannitol is completely dissolved in a product, it induces a strong cooling effect. Also, it has a very low hygroscopicity – it does not pick up water from the air until the humidity level is 98%. This makes mannitol very useful as a coating for hard candies, dried fruits, and chewing gums, and it is often included as an ingredient in candies and chewing gum. The pleasant taste and mouthfeel of mannitol also makes it a popular excipient for chewable tablets.

Analytical chemistry

Mannitol can be used to form a complex with boric acid. This increases the acid strength of the boric acid, permitting better precision in volumetric analysis of this acid.