Nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas, is an inhaled anesthetic that has been safely used in dental and medical procedures around the world since 1844. Because of its ease of use and quick action, nitrous oxide continues to be one of the most popular methods of sedation during dental treatments, including those that involve deep cleaning, wisdom teeth removal, and implants or tooth extractions.
Despite its popularity and effectiveness in keeping patients calm during procedures, nitrous oxide comes with its own set of risks and side effects that should not be ignored by both patients and medical professionals alike. In fact, a study published by the National Library of Medicine indicated “significant exposure of person working in substandard ORs in CH – Shtip were TWA reach up to 12 times above the highest recommended exposure values.”
Considering the gravity of the situation, here’s everything you should know about nitrous oxide exposure.
What Is Nitrous Oxide, and What is it Used For?
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is a commonly used analgesic. It is a colorless, odorless gas and has been used in surgery for centuries to relieve pain during medical procedures. Because it is widely available and relatively inexpensive, nitrous oxide can be found in hospitals and dentist offices worldwide. In some countries, however, it is illegal to use nitrous oxide outside of a medical setting. This gas isn’t without risk, though; if you are exposed to too much, it could cause serious side effects or even death.
What are the Hazards of Nitrous Oxide Exposure?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified nitrous oxide as a general anesthetic that should only be used in dental or medical settings. While it is not flammable, nitrous oxide still poses significant risks to people who handle it without proper training and equipment. With too much nitrous oxide in a room, you may begin to lose consciousness, which can be deadly if you use nitrous oxide along with another drug that depresses your central nervous system, such as ketamine.
In addition to displacing oxygen from your bloodstream, exposure to high levels of nitrous oxide can cause pain in your chest and damage to your blood vessels (known as vasodilation). The decreased oxygen in your bloodstream caused by these side effects is more likely than the lack of oxygen to kill you when using nitrous oxide for recreational purposes.
Why is Nitrous Oxide Testing Crucial Upon Exposure?
It’s essential to undergo Nitrous Oxide testing when you suspect exposure to the gas because symptoms might not occur for as long as 48 hours after breathing the gas. A convenient and cost-effective way to measure nitrous oxide (N2O or “laughing gas”) exposure in the workplace is through a testing kit and nitrous oxide monitoring badges. These badges can be worn near the breathing zone to measure personal exposure or placed in a room to measure area concentration.
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