Liquid Nitrogen – can cause death if not handled correctly

This article has been written by Dr. Sushma Sharma who is a medical practitioner. We would like to thank her for joining us and sharing her thoughts with the world.

liquid-nitrogen

“Smoky drinks” is becoming a visual treat to the visitors in trendy bars or pubs of metropolitan cities nowadays. This visual drama is created by Nitrogen liquid. However nothing in this world is unmixed blessing. In-spite of this how many of you with “Try it out” philosophy are aware of the fact that even one teaspoon of liquid nitrogen can be life threatening.

Technology is a double edged sword, and it gets even more devastating when handled by ignorant hands.

Recently one of the leading newspapers reported a case where a businessman had to undergo surgical resection of his stomach after he gulped down a cocktail with Liquid nitrogen.

This may be first of the reported case in India but was not of a first case of its own. Earlier in 2012 BBC news had reported a case of complete removal of stomach of a teenager after he downed a drink laced with liquid nitrogen. So, what is exactly is liquid nitrogen, its uses, impact on living tissues and precautions need to be followed.

Liquid Nitrogen Properties

Nitrogen gas in Liquid state is called as Liquid nitrogen. It is also abbreviated as LN2, LIN or LN. LN is colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid which is intensely cold due to an extremely low temperature. It gets converted into gaseous form at -195.790C.

Liquid Nitrogen Uses

  • Cryopreservation- science of preserving things like food, biological samples at very low temperature
  • Cryotherapy– removal of abnormal tissue growth at very low temperature e.g warts, cancerous cells
  • It is used as a Coolant
  • Liquid Nitrogen is used in ice cream and desert preparation, rapid chilling of glasses in bars and pubs.

How is Liquid Nitrogen harmful?

  • Cold burn or frostbite
    LN can cause rapid freezing when comes in contact with living tissue or any other inanimate object which has temperature higher than the boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen. Extremely low temperature can cause Cold burn or frostbite both externally and internally. It makes things extremely brittle such that they can fall out in minute particles.liquid-nitrogen-handling
  • Perforations
    It rapidly undergoes transformation into gaseous state and expands enormously. Tremendous amount of force is generated by this expansion which may be explosive. Same thing happens when one gulp down a drink with liquid nitrogen.Explosions may cause perforations or holes in mouth, oesophagus, stomach or intestine. Perforations may cause spillage of acid or undigested food material into the abdominal cavity which may aggravate other complications. Person may require partial or complete resection of vital organs of body to cure perforations.
  • Asphyxia or abnormal breathing
    Asphyxia leads to severely deficient supply of oxygen which raises blood level of lactic acid (lactic acidosis) to such significantly dangerous levels that a person may choke, can land into coma or may even die.

Liquid Nitrogen Handling

  • Proper handling and storage is must – Professional training is mandatory, wear safety gloves and goggles
  • Wait until complete conversion of liquid into gas before pouring drink
  • Avoid coming in contact and inhalation
  • Use in well ventilated areas
  • Let the nitrogen evaporates into gas before drinking
  • Regularize usage of liquid nitrogen.
  • Last but not the least, avoid drinks with liquid nitrogen as it is not recommended for drinking
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