A Randomized Comparison of Nitrous Oxide Versus Intravenous Ketamine for Laceration Repair in Children

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Ketamine is used intramuscularly or intravenously as a sedative when repairing the skin lacerations of children in many emergency departments (EDs). Nitrous oxide (N2O) has the advantages of being a sedative agent that does not require a painful injection and that offers shallower levels of sedation and a rapid recovery of mental state. We evaluated the clinical usefulness of N2O compared with intravenous ketamine when used for the repair of lacerations in children in the ED.


From January to December 2009, we performed a prospective, randomized study at a single academic ED enrolling pediatric patients aged 3 to 10 years who needed primary repair of a laceration wound. The primary outcome was recovery time, which was defined as the time from completion of procedure to recovery of mental state. Other outcomes were sedation depth, pain scale, adverse effects, and satisfaction with sedation.


There were 32 children who were randomly assigned. Recovery times were shorter in the N2O group compared with those in the ketamine group (median [interquartile range (IQR)], 0.0 minutes, [0.0–4.0 minutes] vs 21.5 minutes [12.5–37.5 minutes], P < 0.05). Sedation levels were deeper in the ketamine group than in the N2O group, but pain scales were comparable between groups. No difference was observed in the satisfaction scores by physicians, parents, or nurses.


Nitrous oxide inhalation was preferable to injectable ketamine for pediatric patients because it is safe, allows for a faster recovery, maintains sufficient sedation time, and does not induce unnecessarily deep sedation.

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