Burn centers concerned by increasing laughing gas related ice burns

Laughing gas canisters and balloons near a secondary school in Utrecht-West
Laughing gas canisters and balloons near a secondary school in Utrecht-WestPhoto: Hansmuller/Wikimedia Commons

Burn centers in the Netherlands are concerned about an increasing number of patients coming to them with ice burns after using laughing gas. Over the past three weeks, 14 people were admitted with severe freezing burns on the inside of their thighs. In all patients, the injuries were caused by them clamping an ice-cold laughing gas tank between their legs while filling balloons, NOS reports.

Laughing gas is a popular party drug in the Netherlands. The gas is pumped into a balloon, from which users breathe it in. Breathing in laughing gas causes a brief intoxication, which increases the pain threshold and prevents users from noticing that the ice cold tank is burning their legs. "A day later they only find out that they have suffered serious burns", Ymke Lucas, burn doctor at the Maasstad Hospital in Rotterdam, said to NOS.

The damage to skin tissue caused by freezing is comparable to a burn injury. Most of the recent patients needed a skin transplant to repair the damage. "It involved deep second-degree or third-degree burns, so injury where skin was dead down to the fat layer", Lucas said. 

Lucas believes that the cause of the increasing number of injuries is the rising popularity of using large laughing gas tanks to fill balloons, instead of smaller whipped cream cartridges. "Apparently it's a new trend."

According to Lucas, the other burn centers in Beverwijk and Groningen are noticing the same trend. "That's why we want to bring it to attention early, now that the festival season is starting and laughing gas use is likely to increase again. You can be left with serious scars."