Laughing gas, otherwise known as happy gas, is a chemical compound called nitrous oxide (N2O). It was produced for the first time by the English chemist Joseph Priestley in 1775, but was later popularized by Humphrey Davy in the 1790s. At room temperature, laughing gas does not have any color and is not inflammable. However, it has a pleasant odor and a sweet taste. Laughing gas or nitrous oxide has various uses, but, it is very popular as a clinical sedative, especially in dental procedures. While, nitrous oxide is also used as an oxidizer in rocket motors, it increases the power output of engines in motor racing. Nitrous oxide is also an approved food additive and is used in the form of a aerosol spray propellant. It is used by the food industry to fill packets of fries and other snacks, in order to displace bacteria-inducing oxygen. Nowadays, laughing gas is used for recreational purposes as well, as a dissociative drug, but such activities are under a scanner.
Clinical Use of Laughing Gas
The clinical use of nitrous oxide is very different from the industrial uses. The medical use is based on the anesthetic and analgesic properties of laughing gas. It is often administered by doctors during surgery, childbirth, etc. in order to alleviate the pain and also as a conscious sedation. Laughing gas is commonly used by dentists, as part of sedation dentistry. Pure form of laughing gas or N2O cannot be used for a long time, as it lacks oxygen and this may lead to unconsciousness or death. Hence, for clinical use, nitrous oxide is combined with oxygen (N2O-O2), in order to lengthen the period of its use in a safe manner. There should be a minimum of 30% oxygen in the mixture, but nowadays, the preferable ratio is 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide.
The mixture is administered to the patient through a nasal hood and nowadays, an additional vacuum machine is also fitted to the mask of the patient in order to suck away his/her exhale. This is done to avoid the doctor and other staff getting affected by the exhalation (with laughing gas) of the patient. The patient can feel a lightheadedness during the initial stages, but the degree of sedation depends on the concentration of nitrous oxide and the period of administration. The first stage of sedation will be like a tingling sensation in the arms and legs, the second stage gives a warm sensation to the patient. During the third stage, the patient experiences a floating, euphoria-like sensation. The fourth stage makes the patient feel sleepy and he won't be able to speak or move. If you are feeling nauseated, it can be inferred as one of the first signs of over-sedation. Let us take a look at the various laughing gas side effects.
Side Effects of Laughing Gas
Laughing gas is considered to be a comparatively safer sedative, but may cause some side effects, if administered in very high doses or for a very long period. This may happen, in the case of any error in the mixing of laughing gas and oxygen. According to some studies, use of laughing gas sedation during surgery may cause heart attacks in patients. It may also cause pneumonia or surgical wound infections, if only nitrous oxide is used for sedation, instead of a nitrous oxide-oxygen mixture. The following are some of the laughing gas side effects.
- As mentioned earlier, nausea is one of the nitrous oxide side effects. The most common reason is an error in the mixing of laughing gas and oxygen. If the amount of laughing gas is more than 70%, nausea may occur.
- If it is more than 90%, then the patient may lose consciousness and there is a very good chance of brain or organ damage, due to lack of oxygen (asphyxiation).
- Some people may feel numbness in the arms and legs, dizziness and headache.
- Apart from the above said short term side effects, regular use of laughing gas (moderate or high doses) may lead to long term laughing gas side effects. They include nerve damage, motor disorders, numbness of limbs, impaired attentiveness, etc.
- Administration of nitrous gas should be done by a doctor or a qualified professional. It should not be directly inhaled from the dispenser, capsule or gas bottle, as it may cause internal burning and lung collapse. It is also harmful for people with heart problems.
- Pregnant women, people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, those affected by otitis, decompression sickness or fractured ribs, etc. must avoid the use of laughing gas.
- A combination of alcohol and laughing gas can also prove harmful for the user and it is important to make sure that you don't drive after using laughing gas.
Now, you have a basic idea about laughing gas and laughing gas side effects, so do refrain from using it for recreational uses or as a dissociative drug. If you are facing any difficulty (due to laughing gas sedation) during a dental procedure, inform the doctor about it. You may also breathe fresh air in between, with the permission of the dentist. Don't laugh it away, as laughing gas can be harmful and sometimes even fatal for you, if not properly administered.
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