What does nitrous oxide do? Nitrous oxide can be used as anaesthetic to reduce pain in medical procedures.

Most of us are aware of the dangers common gases can cause like carbon monoxide and methane; however, nitrous oxide is a little less well known. This article will explore what nitrous oxide is, what it does, its uses, nitrous oxide side effects, and the importance of nitrous oxide measurement.

What Is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide (N2O), also known as laughing gas, is an oxide of nitrogen. At room temperature nitrous oxide is a colourless, odourless, non-flammable gas, and becomes a powerful oxidiser at high temperatures.1

Person in hospital breathing nitrous oxide from a face mask. Nitrous Oxide works as an anaesthetic in the medical industry to reduce pain.

What Does Nitrous Oxide Uses?

Nitrous oxide is most well known for its use in medicine, due to its anaesthetic and pain-relieving properties. Nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen may be inhaled by a patient to reduce the pain associated with oral surgery, trauma, and childbirth.  Though nitrous oxide works quickly, the pain-relieving effects soon wear off.3

As well as medicine, nitrous oxide is used in other industries including:

  • Motor vehicle
  • Aeronautics
  • Food and Beverage

3 images: racing car, rocket launching and whipped cream showing 3 different industries where nitrous oxide is used.

Motor Vehicles

Nitrous oxide is used in vehicle racing, allowing engines to generate more power and the vehicle to drive faster. Nitrous oxide supplies extra oxygen during combustion so the engine burns more fuel, producing more engine power.5


Similar to motor racing, nitrous oxide is used in rocket propellants to increase the power of the engines. Nitrous oxide has advantages over using other oxidisers as it is much less harmful, easier to store and comparatively safe to carry on flight.6

Food and Beverag

Nitrous oxide is also approved for use as a food additive, particularly used in aerosol sprays as a propellant. Its most common use in the food industry is in whipped cream canisters and aerosol cooking sprays. Nitrous oxide works well with oil and whipped cream as the gas because of its solubility in fatty compounds. For whipped cream, nitrous oxide is dissolved into the cream, when it then leaves the can it becomes gaseous and therefore creating the foam. Other gases such as CO2 cannot be used as it is acidic in water and would curdle the cream.7

Side Effects and Hazards of Nitrous Oxide

Health Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide

Now we know the uses nitrous oxide uses, it is important to understand the side effects and hazards of nitrous oxide, reasons for monitoring and measuring nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide can be dangerous to human health if inhaled in excess; however, it is also increasingly causing concerns for the health of the planet. Nitrous oxide side effects can result in health issues. Symptoms from exposure to excess amount of nitrous oxide include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness
  • Nerve damage8

In medical facilities, nitrous oxide has to be stored in abundance, but this poses a risk of leaks and the build up of nitrous oxide. It is vital to have robust safety measures in place to rapidly detect and repair any leaks of nitrous oxide.

Environmental Impact of Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide has been found to be 300 times more polluting to the planet than carbon dioxide, making it a major greenhouse gas and a key driver of climate change.9 Industries must control their nitrous oxide emissions. Any nitrous oxide leaks can have huge detrimental effects on our atmosphere.

image showing a tree and planet divided in two: one half is grey and barren with a polluted sky. The other half shows grass on the ground, a tree in full bloom and a blue sky.

As we unfold the dangers of nitrous oxide, the need for a nitrous oxide detector and frequent measurement becomes clear.

Nitrous Oxide Measurement With Edinburgh Sensors

Protect your workplace from nitrous oxide leaks using Edinburgh Sensors Gascard NG. Edinburgh Sensors Gascard NG provides high quality, accurate and reliable nitrous oxide measurement.

Keep the planet and its inhabitants safe with a nitrous oxide detector. For more information, or to place an order get in touch, and a member of our sales team will be delighted to help.

Gascard used to detect nitrous oxide


  1. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/nitrous-oxide
  2. https://www.who.int/groups/expert-committee-on-selection-and-use-of-essential-medicines/essential-medicines-lists
  3. http://www.contactmagazine.com/Issue54/EngineBasics.html
  4. https://docslib.org/doc/9057216/is-nitrous-oxide-safe
  5. https://smartwhip.com/blog/9-food-grade-nitrous-oxide-uses-in-food/#:~:text=It%20is%20also%20used%20as,and%20CO2%20from%20the%20dough.
  6. Nitrous Oxide Side Effects: Long Term, Short Term, Overdose, and More (healthline.com)
  7. What Is Nitrous Oxide and Why Is It a Climate Threat? – Inside Climate News