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Laughter is Good Medicine for Children in the Emergency Room


Cynthia Bacon, 718-670-2515
David Levine, 212-772-9447

New York Hospital Queens Uses Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) to Help Manage Children’s Pain and Anxiety in the ER

Flushing, New York, July 28, 2010– Fewer children are crying and saying “ouch” in the pediatric emergency room at New York Hospital Queens (NYHQ) since the introduction of inhaled nitrous oxide as an option for pain management and procedural sedation.

Nitrous oxide, more commonly known as “laughing gas,” is a weak anesthetic that was first published for its use as a pain control method 215 years ago. Although is too weak a painkiller to be used in major surgery, it was found to be ideal for the lesser pain of dentistry. The inhaled gas is still used today by dentists to alleviate anxiety and pain in both children and adults.

“The idea to use nitrous oxide in the Pediatric ER came from Washington University in St. Louis, where it was pioneered,” said Gregg Rusczyk, M.D., director, NYHQ Pediatric Emergency Department. “I learned about it in my fellowship program there.”

Diane Sixsmith, M.D., chairman, Emergency Medicine, agreed with Dr. Rusczyk that the gas would be a good alternative to an IV needle. “When my daughter was little, her dentist used it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Gee, if she didn’t mind having a tooth pulled while she was wide awake, this is something we should look into.’”

Nitrous oxide is given to the child through a fruit scented face mask. This method allows the child to calm down while providing extremely effective stress and pain relief.

According to Dr. Rusczyk, the gas works within two to three minutes of application and wears off just as quickly, with no lingering after effects. “It produces a sort of floating feeling and a happy, laughing sensation,” Dr. Rusczyk said.

The Pediatric Emergency Room protocol was developed by Dr. Rusczyk in collaboration with Peter Silverberg, M.D., chairman, Anesthesiology. Patients have included a 16-month-old with a large laceration of the arm and a two-year-old with a crushed finger. Dr. Rusczyk noted, “The use of nitrous oxide makes the treatment of injuries less traumatic for the child and the parents are extremely grateful.”

The Pediatric emergency room at NYHQ is dedicated to treating the special needs of children with illnesses and injuries within a full-service hospital. The staff evaluates patients with medical, surgical, or trauma-related problems ranging from minor illnesses to life-threatening diseases and accidents. The NYHQ Emergency Department is a NYC-and NYS-designated Level 1 Trauma Center. Approximately 35,000 children are treated in the emergency room every year.

New York Hospital Queens is a member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.


Todd Mastrovich, M.D, attending physician at New York Hospital Queens,
uses nitrous oxide to soothe a child in the pediatric emergency room.


Note to Editors: Dr. Rusczyk is available for interviews.  Also, we can make arrangements to have a demonstration of the nitrous oxide being used in the pediatric ER.

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