Nitrous oxide, once commonly referred to as laughing gas, is changing the way many patients at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital are sedated during outpatient procedures.
Inhaled through a scented mask, nitrous oxide is a quick-acting sedative that can decrease discomfort and anxiety and help children feel relaxed during medical procedures.
Nitrous oxide is particularly useful for brief, minimally invasive procedures, such as accessing a patient’s port, joint injections, spinal taps, wound irrigation, and the insertion of an IV, PICC line or catheter.
The less-invasive sedation option relaxes patients quickly without causing deep sleep, like with anesthesia, and wears off almost immediately.
St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Physiatrist Dr. Paul Kornberg, who uses Botox injections to reduce muscle spasticity in some of his patients with mobility issues, often recommends the use of nitrous oxide when sedation is needed.
“The advantages for using nitrous oxide over traditional sedation are that it starts working in one to two minutes, it can be administered at the bedside and patients experience a much quicker recovery time, allowing them to return to normal activity sooner,” Dr. Kornberg says.
Five-year-old Sandra Cantin is one of those patients. Born with cerebral palsy, Sandra receives Botox injections in her arms and legs every three months and has received nitrous oxide before the past five procedures.
“Before we had the option to sedate her with nitrous oxide, Sandra would become very agitated and cry throughout the procedure,” says her mother Ashley Cantin. “Now when she receives the Botox injections, it’s a stress-free experience for everyone involved – especially for Sandra.”
Once the mask is removed, the nitrous oxide wears off almost immediately and within minutes the patient is able to go home. This means less anxiety for families of children battling chronic illnesses that require frequent hospital stays.
Because the patient remains awake and calm throughout the administration of nitrous oxide, the patient is able to follow verbal instructions with hospital staff, which is important during certain procedures. Yet despite their awake state, many patients only vaguely remember the procedure, if at all.
“St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital is committed to helping children get better in the most pain-free way possible,” says Nanette Wilcox, director of patient care services. “However, we know it’s inevitable that in a hospital some children may undergo procedures that cause discomfort or stress and nitrous oxide sedation is one of the many tools we have in our pain-free toolbox.”
For more information on treatment options available at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital or to find a doctor, visit StJosephsChildrens.org.