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Nitrous oxide for sedation

Article Translations: (Spanish)

Your child is scheduled for a procedure that might need them to hold still or be uncomfortable. To help your child hold still, relax and not feel pain, they will get a type of sedation medicine called nitrous oxide.

If eating and drinking restrictions are needed, a nurse will call you. Otherwise, your child may eat a light snack, such as toast and juice. These restrictions are to help prevent nausea (upset stomach) and vomiting (throwing up).

What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a very quick-acting inhaled sedation medicine that decreases discomfort and anxiety. It is sometimes called laughing gas, and is often given at the dentist's office. As with all medicines, there are benefits, side effects, and risks. Be sure to discuss any questions with the doctor or nurse.

How is it given?

Your child will inhale the medicine through a mask, breathing in and out normally through the nose and mouth. Your child can choose a good smell to put in the mask. Sometimes, younger children resist the mask. If this happens, a nurse will give the medicine by holding the mask in place over the nose and mouth. The nitrous oxide will make your child feel relaxed and sleepy, but most kids stay awake. It does not cause a deep sleep, as general anesthesia does. It will be given a few minutes before the procedure starts and continue until the procedure ends.

For safety during sedation, a nurse will monitor your child until the nitrous oxide has worn off.

What are the side effects?

Nitrous oxide is safe for use in children and there are no long-term side effects. Side effects may occur while receiving nitrous oxide or for a short time afterwards, include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache

What can I expect after the nitrous oxide is stopped?

Oxygen will be given to your child for a short time after the nitrous oxide is turned off. The effects of nitrous oxide wear off quickly. Usually, children wake up comfortably. Sometimes they may be a little disoriented and irritable, but this usually lasts only a very short time.

A nurse will monitor your child until the effect of nitrous oxide has worn off. If your child is an outpatient, you must stay with him or her. Your child may eat right away unless there is a reason not to, such as another test. Once home, your child may go back to regular activities.

How can I help my child?

You are welcome to be next to your child throughout the procedure to offer comfort and support. If you are pregnant you will be asked to step out while the nitrous is being given.

Reassure and explain to your child in simple words what is being done and why. Always tell the truth. Remain calm; the more relaxed you and your child are, the easier the test will be. We are here to help both your child and you.

When should I call the doctor?

  • questions about the procedure or results
  • vomiting more than twice
  • extreme irritability
  • trouble arousing your child

What else do I need to know?

All children are different. Nitrous oxide does not work for everyone. The healthcare provider will discuss other sedation options with you if the procedure cannot be completed with nitrous oxide.

Before sedation can be given, all patients with a uterus 10 years old or older, are younger than 10 but have started their periods, OR state they are sexually active are screened for pregnancy. Because sedation medicine can pose a serious risk to pregnancy, we need to know whether or not a patient is pregnant in order to provide the safest care possible.  If a pregnancy test will be required, your child will be asked for a urine (pee) sample just after check-in.  Refer to the education handout "Pregnancy testing before a procedure" for more information.

Questions?

This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have questions, please call the number provided by your doctor or nurse.

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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