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What is Inhalation Sedation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Inhalation sedation is a sedation technique where the sedative is delivered in the form of an inhaled gas, with nitrous oxide being a very common choice of sedative for inhalation sedation. Sedation keeps patients more relaxed, calm, and comfortable during procedures and may be combined with analgesia for pain management if a care provider thinks this is necessary. One of the most common applications of this technique is in dentistry, where patients tend to be nervous during procedures and light sedation can facilitate patient care.

Care providers using inhalation sedation deliver a mix of the sedative of choice and oxygen to the patient through a mask. Commonly, the mask fits over the nose, and a nasal cannula may be used to target delivery of the mix of gases to the patient. Full masks covering the nose and mouth are also available, although they cannot be used in dentistry, as the dentist needs access to the patient's mouth to do the work.

When a patient requests inhalation sedation or a care provider recommends it for a procedure, the patient will be screened to confirm that sedation is appropriate. A mixture of gases will be selected and calibrated for the patient and once the patient gets comfortable, the procedure can begin. Patients should remain alert during inhalation sedation, although they may feel euphoric, in addition to generally relaxed and comfortable. Losing consciousness, experiencing frightening emotions, and feeling extremely disoriented are signs that the sedation is too strong.

Patients who start to feel overwhelmed on inhalation sedation can remove the mask altogether to stop the delivery of sedatives or ask their care providers to change the mixture of gases to add more oxygen. Everyone responds slightly differently to sedatives and it is important to speak up about discomfort or distress. Inhalation sedation can cause side effects like unpleasant flashbacks, and these will create stress and discomfort, taking the patient out of a state of relaxation and calm and defeating the purpose of the sedation.

Equipment used for inhalation sedation is sterilized between patients to limit the spread of disease. Many care providers use disposable equipment for the mask and nasal cannula for convenience and safety. The equipment is also carefully inspected between uses to confirm that it is working properly, checking for issues like stuck valves or improper calibration that could put patients at risk. Patients concerned about the equipment used can ask to see maintenance and servicing logs.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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