Dentists have used nitrous oxide for decades safely in their practices to reduce the pain associated with dental procedures. Now it is possible and safe to use nitrous oxide in the medical office for the same purpose, i.e., reduce pain and discomfort.
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or happy gas, was first discovered in 1793 by the English scientist Joseph Priestly and has been used for more than 150 years. It has remained one of the most widely used anesthetics in both dental and medical applications.
Nitrous oxide is a colorless and nonflammable gas with a slightly sweet odor.
Nitrous oxide also has some illicit recreational uses and abuse potential. It is widely used in multiple non-medical areas. Some of the non-medical uses of nitrous oxide include the semiconductor industry, car racing, and food processing which allows food to be preserved for long periods of time.
Nitrous oxide is administered by inhalation, absorbed through the lungs, and eliminated via respiration. The elimination half-life of nitrous oxide is approximately 5 minutes. Therefore, patients who receive nitrous oxide in the office setting can walk out of the office on their own volition and even safely drive a car. In our medical office it is commonly used with oxygen for partial sedation and as a pain reliever. The oxygen is delivered at a greater concentration than is available in the air that we breathe, i.e., oxygen in our atmosphere is around 20% and the oxygen delivered during an office procedure is never below 3)%.
Nitrous oxide is indicated to decrease the pain and anxiety associated with some of the urologic procedures, such as vasectomy, cystoscopy, prostate biopsies, and various prostate operations such as the UroLift. It is commonly delivered by a mask in combination with oxygen. The specially designed mask fully covers the mouth and nose, allowing the mixture of nitrous oxide with oxygen to flow while the procedure is being performed.
Overall, nitrous oxide is a very safe drug with few side effects or contraindications. Like any drug or gas there are contraindications which include:
Nitrous oxide is contraindicated in patients with significant respiratory compromise. It is also contraindicated in patients undergoing surgery of the middle ear or eye surgery. Nitrous oxide is relatively contraindicated in pregnancy. It is known to have potential teratogenic and fetal toxic effects, particularly with chronic use. Of course nitrous oxide cannot be used in those patients who are unable to wear a mask over their nose and mouth.
Bottom Line: Nitrous oxide is a very safe sedative that can be used in the medical office setting. It makes procedures such as vasectomy or prostate operations more tolerable and much more comfortable. If you have any questions about the use of nitrous oxide in the medical setting, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.