Kids Health Info

Sedation - Nitrous oxide

  • Nitrous oxide is an anaesthetic gas. It can be given to your child to breath during a procedure to help reduce any discomfort they have, and to help them to feel calm. It has been safely used for patients of many ages in dental clinics, during childbirth and in Emergency Departments for several years. It is often referred to as 'laughing gas'.

    RCH KHI Nitrous Oxide mask

    Before the procedure

    Nitrous oxide helps most children feel drowsy and relaxed within a few minutes. In most cases, using it means a necessary procedure can be completed with minimal discomfort or distress to your child.

    It will involve a specially trained doctor or nurse putting a mask directly onto your child's face which will cover their nose and mouth. This can be a little frightening, especially for younger children. However, once the gas takes effect, most children do not mind it being there. It can be useful to let the child see and touch the mask or practice breathing with the mask before the gas is turned on. Your child may also like to choose a smell to be put inside the mask (e.g. chocolate essence).

    It is important that your child has had nothing to eat or drink for at least two hours before they are given nitrous oxide. This helps reduce the chance of them having a large vomit while they are drowsy.

    During the procedure

    During the procedure your child will not be "anaesthetised." Your child will still be awake and be able to breathe normally, continue to talk and interact with others, or remain quiet.

    After the procedure

    After the procedure is finished, the nitrous oxide will be turned off and your child will be given pure oxygen to breath through the same mask for two to three minutes. This helps to clear the gas from the body. Most children feel back to normal within 10 minutes and may not remember parts of the procedure.

    It is important that:

    • your child stays in hospital or in their bed until a doctor or nurse says its safe move about
    • your child avoids sporting activities, playgrounds, driving or using mechanical equipment for remainder of the day as balance and coordination can be affected for short period of time
    • outpatients are accompanied home by a responsible adult. 

    Key points to remember

    • It is very important that you ask a doctor or nurse any questions you may have about nitrous oxide before you give your consent.
    • Make sure you understand the reasons for your child having nitrous oxide and the possible risks involved.
    • Feel free to ask questions before, during and after the procedure if you have any.

    Developed by the Royal Children's Hospital Procedural Pain Team. First published in June 2007. Updated October 2010. Enquiries to RCH Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Management

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.