Nitric Oxide Therapy
A Brief Summary Of Nitric Oxide Therapy
Nitric oxide therapy has a good track record of success when used for certain diseases and disorders of the lungs. Nitric oxide, a gas, when inhaled can cause what is called vasodilation, which is the dilation or enlargement of blood vessels and alveoli in the lungs, which can be very beneficial and even life saving to those with serious lung problems.
First, it’s important to note what nitric oxide is not. It is not what we often refer to as laughing gas. Laughing gas is nitrous oxide, which has the chemical description N20, meaning a molecule of the gas consists of two nitrogen atoms bound to a single oxygen atom. The chemical description of nitric oxide is NO, one atom of nitrogen combined with one atom of oxygen. The lack of a second atom of nitrogen means we won't laugh when inhaling NO, in fact nitric oxide is found in smog, and is classified as a pollutant.
ARDS - So, with nitric oxide we have an example of a pollutant being put to very beneficial use. It is most commonly used for patients suffering from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is not a disease, but a dysfunction of the lung, brought about by one of several causes including pneumonia, shock, and trauma, and can in some cases prove fatal.
How It Works - When we breathe, air goes through the trachea, through the bronchi, and into the lungs, finally reaching small sacs called alveoli. Small capillaries in the alveoli function to transfer oxygen into the blood stream and transfer carbon dioxide waste from the bloodstream back into the lungs. When a person suffers from ARDS, it means that a number, perhaps a majority, of the alveoli have been damaged and are not functioning correctly. Nitric oxide serves to dilate the alveoli and the surrounding blood vessels and capillaries in the lung, making it easier for the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide to take place.
Nitric oxide is toxic, and if inhaled in excessive amounts can be lethal. A lethal amount would be a concentration of around 5 to 10 thousand parts per million (ppm). Nitric oxide therapy uses concentrations of between 1 and 80 ppm, and only for as brief a time as is necessary to help in restoring normal lung function.
Selective Use - There are other vasodilation agents which can be used, nitroglycerin being one which is more familiar to heart patients. These other agents however tend to dilate blood vessels and arteries throughout the body, which in some instances is either not required or undesirable. Nitric oxide can be used more selectively, with its effects being for the most part confined to the lungs. It is often inhaled along with a rich concentration of oxygen when a patient is on a ventilator. Nitric oxide therapy in this case either results in the oxygen having a greater impact, or in allowing a leaner mixture of oxygen to be used.
To best understand the value of nitric oxide therapy, it helps to do some reading up on ARDS and its various causes, as this is where this type of therapy is most often used. Nitric oxide therapy is not restricted to adults with lung issues. It has been used as well with positive results on infants and newborns with lung defeats or problems.
Summary – Nitric oxide is not nitrous oxide, it is not laughing gas. It is instead a useful pollutant which causes vasodilation in the lungs, making breathing easier and more efficient. It is most commonly used when a patient requires a ventilator, but can also be mixed in with oxygen where a ventilator may not be needed. It doesn't make you laugh, but it can help make you well.