Nitrous Oxide in breath analysis

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is present in very small amounts in human exhaled air. Hence, it can be measured in breath analysis in the medical field for a few different reasons.

What is N2O ?

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a colorless and non-flammable gas that is used for medical and recreational purposes. It is also used as a propellant in aerosols and whipped cream cartridges. While it is considered relatively safe for controlled medical use, excessive or frequent recreational consumption of N2O can cause health risks


N2O monitoring in breath using NDIR sensor

Nitrous oxide is detected at low concentrations in human breath. Studies have examined its use as a physiological indicator, showing variations in concentration after food ingestion. This substance can be measured in exhaled air analysis for medical purposes, as an indicator during anesthesia or as a biomarker for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


NDIR, or “non-dispersive infrared”, is a gas detection technology that measures the concentration of a specific gas, such as N2O, by detecting its absorption of infrared radiation. In N2O monitoring, exhaled air is directed towards the NDIR sensor, which emits infrared radiation at a specific wavelength. The N2O molecules present in the exhaled air absorb this radiation, and the sensor calculates the concentration on the basis of the absorbed infrared radiation. NDIR sensors are preferred for N2O monitoring because of their accuracy, reliability, ability to detect low concentrations, minimal maintenance and resistance to variations in temperature, pressure and humidity.


The importance of monitoring N2O in exhaled air

Nitrous oxide (N2O) in human breath is considered a potential biomarker, with fluctuations in concentration observed after food ingestion. This makes it interesting for medical breath analysis, serving as an indicator during anesthesia and as a biomarker for conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

An indicator

using capnography

First, when Nitrous Oxide is used as an anesthetic during medical procedures, it’s crucial to monitor the concentration of the gas in exhaled air to prevent respiratory complications that can result from excessive exposure. When this gas is administered to a patient, it is metabolized in the body and eliminated through breathing. This means that the gas can be detected in the patient’s exhaled air. Healthcare professionals use a gas analyzer to measure the concentration of Nitrous Oxide in exhaled air, ensuring that patients receive the correct amount of anesthesia and if the concentration of N2O is high enough to maintain anesthesia during the procedure. If the concentration of N2O is too low, the patient could experience pain or discomfort.

In addition, measuring the concentration of N2O in exhaled air can help prevent undesirable side effects of using this anesthetic gas. Prolonged inhalation of N2O can cause adverse health effects such as nausea, vomiting and headaches. By measuring the concentration of N2O in exhaled air, medical staff can adjust the administration of the anesthetic to minimize these adverse effects.

Finally, measuring the N2O level in exhaled air is also important for the safety of medical staff working around the patient. N2O is a potentially dangerous greenhouse gas that can accumulate in the air if proper precautions are not taken. By regularly measuring the concentration of N2O in exhaled air, medical personnel can monitor and minimize the risk of excessive exposure to the gas.

A biomarker

for asthma and COPD


N2O can be used as an indicator of airway inflammation, including in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Levels of N2O in exhaled air can increase in people with asthma, especially during acute attacks. When the airways are inflamed, inflammatory cells produce higher amounts of N2O. Measuring the concentration of N2O in exhaled air can therefore provide an indication of the presence and extent of airway inflammation in patients with asthma. Physicians can use measurement of breath N2O concentration as a tool for diagnosing and monitoring asthma.

N2O levels can be measured before and after the administration of asthma medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids, to assess the effectiveness of treatment.

Moreover, a study published in the journal Chest in 2013 explored the use of breath N2O concentration measurement to predict the response of asthma patients to inhaled corticosteroid therapy. The researchers found that measuring breath N2O concentration can help identify patients who will respond well to inhaled corticosteroid therapy.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is present in very small amounts in human breath, and studies have been conducted to investigate how its levels in breath can inform us about different physiological states. Hense, this gas can be measured in breath analysis in the medical field for a few different reasons.

Prevent risks

from excessive N2O “laughing gas” consumption

Laughing gas inhalation is very popular among young people for its short-term psychoactive effects. But inhaling Nitrous Oxide causes nerve damage and respiratory problems. First, N2O can reduce the amount of oxygen available to the body, which can lead to hypoxia, a condition in which the body’s cells do not receive enough oxygen. This can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, loss of consciousness, and even death. Excessive or prolonged N2O consumption can also cause neurological damage, including short-term memory loss, coordination problems, muscle weakness, and numbness. It can also lead to toxicity, which can cause damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys. And finally, N2O consumption can affect coordination and sensory perception, which can increase the risk of accidents, including burns, cuts, and falls.

Measuring the concentration of N2O in the exhaled air after inhalation could reflect the amount of gas that has been absorbed by the lungs and could be an indicator of exposure to this substance.


The first laughing gas breathalyzer

Discover the first exhaled air analyzer dedicated to the analysis of nitrous oxide in breath!


OCIEngine Sensor to monitor N2O in exhaled air

Olythe is specialized in the production of NDIR sensors for gas sensing, including Nitrous Oxide. We offer custom solutions, helping companies to define their needs ans requirements for N2O monitoring. Thanks to our expertise in gas sensing and our understanding of the specific challenges associated with N2O measurements in exhaled air, we can provide you custom advice and support.

Our infrared spectroscopy sensor can be integrated into portable and mobile systems with high accuracy and reliability.

You plan to integrate a N2O gas sensor in your system?