What is Nitrous Oxide?
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or happy gas, is an oxide of nitrogen with the formula N₂O. It is a colorless and non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet scent and taste. It is not to be confused with nitrogen (N2) or nitric oxide (NO).
Where Is It Used?
Nitrous oxide is an anesthetic commonly used for mild sedation and pain relief in medical and dental procedures, as it helps to relieve anxiety, allowing the patient to relax.
How Does It Feel?
Since nitrous oxide is not meant to put the patient to sleep, they are still able to hear what is going on around them and even respond to the doctor’s questions. It is a central nervous system depressant which slows down and relaxes your body. You may feel light-headed, giggly, happy or euphoric under its effect.
What are Its Side-Effects?
While nitrous oxide is generally safe to use under proper guidance of a doctor, some people might experience certain side effects during or after use, the most common being nausea and headache. Children might also feel agitated on exposure to nitrous oxide. However, these side-effects are only reported in around 5% of patients. Occasional usage is considered safe but with frequent procedures involving nitrous oxide, the long-term side effect of developing anemia is associated.
What are the Risks of Recreational Use?
Nitrous oxide is also used by people for recreational purposes to feel intoxicated or high. Recreational users generally dispense it into a balloon and inhale it directly into the mouth for the euphoric effect and slight hallucinations it causes. Such unsupervised use of nitrous oxide can have risks associated with it, like nerve damage, fainting, low blood pressure, hypoxia and even heart attack. Nitrous oxide affects coordination and can prove to be dangerous if you try to drive or operate heavy machinery under its influence.
How to Test for Nitrous Oxide Exposure?
Anesthesiologists, nurses and other healthcare professionals working in operation theatres and intensive care units are regularly exposed to nitrous oxide for prolonged durations. In order to prevent long-term effects on their health, nitrous oxide testing must be done to determine that the exposure is within safe limits.
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