How Nitrous Oxide affects Indoor Air Quality in Surgical Centers

Nitrous oxide, commonly know as “laughing gas” was first used as an anesthetic in 1844 when Dr. Horace Wells, a dentist, used the drug to dampen the pain receptors of a patient during a tooth extraction. Since then, nitrous oxide, also known as N2O, nitrous, NOS, and nitro (in addition to various street drug terms), has been safely used as a mild anesthetic for over 150 years.

At room temperature, nitrous oxide is clear, colorless and non-flammable, an oxide of nitrogen. (3) It is used in surgical professions – veterinary and dental, for example, for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. Though there are benefits, there are also risks.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has stated that veterinary medicine and animal care workers are at risk from a variety of exposures, both from contact and inhalation. (1) NIOSH, National Institute For Occupational Safety & Health, went so far as to request government assistance in limiting workplace exposures from N2O in veterinary clinics because contact can “cause decreased mental performance, audiovisual ability and manual dexterity”. (2) Slurred speech, difficulty maintaining balance, slow response time, and possible unconsciousness are all potential hazards to watch for during times of exposure. In addition, studies have demonstrated that reproductive and immune systems are also compromised as a result of over-exposure to nitrous oxide. (4)

If safely contained, N2O’s positive medical properties should not be overshadowed by the risks involved with possible over-exposure. Containment is key.

The CDC cautioned in it’s NIOSH alert, “control measures for preventing or greatly reducing exposure to N2O during the administration of anesthetic gas” should be part of a comprehensive written safety plan for surgical personnel. (3)

With estimates of over 200,000 healthcare workers potentially at risk (5), all medical industries – not just those who work in the veterinary field – should add to their vigilant anesthetic practices, safety policies that include improved source capture, ventilation, and equipment maintenance. Exceptionally clean IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) is vital.

At Air Systems Inc, we are leaders in the control of harmful workplace fumes and particulates. We can assess your current safety strategies and offer a thorough analysis on the quality of your environmental IAQ. Contact our office to speak to a clean air specialist today for a free evaluation.