Nitrous oxide is a colorless and odorless substance that’s also known as “laughing gas.” When inhaled, the gas slows down the body’s reaction time. This results in a calm, euphoric feeling.
Nitrous oxide can be used to treat pain. It also functions as a mild sedative. Because of this, it’s sometimes used before dental procedures to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Nitrous oxide gas works fast as a sedative, but it doesn’t take long for the effects to wear off.
Nitrous oxide is safe. But like any type of drug, side effects may occur. Here’s a look at the potential side effects of nitrous oxide.
Even though side effects can occur from inhaling nitrous oxide, many who receive the gas don’t have adverse reactions or complications at all.
When side effects do happen, they often occur as the result of inhaling too much of the gas or inhaling the gas too fast.
Common short-term side effects include:
- excessive sweating
Some people also experience hallucinations or sound distortion after inhaling nitrous oxide.
Oxygen is sometimes administered along with nitrous oxide. If not, you may receive oxygen for about five minutes after your doctor turns off the gas.
Oxygen helps clear any remaining gas from your body. This will help you regain alertness after your procedure. Getting sufficient oxygen may also prevent a headache, which is another possible side effect of laughing gas.
You should be able to drive yourself home after receiving nitrous oxide at a dental appointment. But you’ll need to wait until you’re fully alert. This may take about 15 minutes, according to the California Dental Association.
To prepare your body for nitrous oxide, eat light meals before you receive the gas. This can prevent nausea and vomiting. Also, avoid heavy meals for at least three hours after receiving the gas.
Be alert to signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction after inhaling nitrous oxide. They can include:
- difficulty breathing
Get immediate medical help if you have any signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Any side effect from nitrous oxide typically reverses itself quickly. The gas doesn’t appear to cause long-term side effects.
In any event, talk to your dentist if you develop any unusual symptoms after receiving nitrous oxide or if a side effect continues for hours or days after a procedure.
Keep in mind that while nitrous oxide is safe, it’s not recommended for everyone. Based on your medical history, your doctor can determine whether this is an appropriate sedation method for you.
You might not be able to receive nitrous oxide if:
- You’re in the first trimester of pregnancy.
- You have a history of respiratory illness or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- You have methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency.
- You have a cobalamin (vitamin B-12) deficiency.
- You have a history of mental health conditions.
- You have a history of substance use disorders.
While there are no known long-term side effects, misusing nitrous oxide or long-term exposure to the gas in a work environment may cause long-term complications.
Nitrous oxide is also a safe drug for toddlers and children. Similar to adults, children and toddlers who receive nitrous oxide may experience short-term side effects, such as:
Your child may also appear a little disoriented and irritable after receiving the gas. Again, these effects quickly wear off and don’t cause long-term issues.
Despite the gas being safe and used medically, there’s the risk of overdose. This can occur due to long-term exposure or from receiving too much of the gas.
Signs of a possible overdose may include:
- irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat
- wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing
- choking or tightness in the chest
- bluish fingers, toes, and lips
- rapid heart rate
- psychosis or hallucinations
An increase in blood pressure may also occur. This can raise the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Brain damage is also a possibility when a person receives a large dose of nitrous oxide without sufficient oxygen. If left untreated, an overdose can cause coma or death.
It’s important to note that overdose effects require an amount many times greater than what you would receive at your dentist’s office.
Nitrous oxide is a safe, common sedation method that’s appropriate for adults and children. Yet, side effects can occur after use.
Most side effects are mild and reversible and don’t cause lasting damage. But in the case of overuse or misuse, nitrous oxide can be dangerous and life-threatening.
In addition, nitrous oxide isn’t the right choice for everyone. Talk with your dentist before a procedure and share your medical history with them. Based on your current health, your dentist can determine whether you’re a candidate for this method of sedation.