Types of Anesthesia

Print this page Bookmark and Share
Parents

Lea este articuloIf your child is to undergo a surgery or procedure, it can reassure you to understand how the various types of anesthesia work to make the experience more comfortable.

Anesthesia is broken down into three main categories: general, regional, and local, all of which affect the nervous system in some way and can be administered using various methods and different medications.

Think of the brain as a central computer that controls all the body's functions and the nervous system as a network that relays messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. It does this via the spinal cord, which runs from the brain down through the backbone and contains threadlike nerves that branch out to every organ and body part.

Here's a look at what each kind of anesthesia does.

General Anesthesia

The goal is to make and keep a person completely unconscious (or "asleep") during the operation, with no awareness or memory of the surgery. General anesthesia can be given through an IV (which requires a needle stick into a vein, usually in the arm) or by inhaling gases or vapors delivered by a mask or breathing tube.

If your child is having general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will be there before, during, and after the operation to monitor the anesthetic medications and ensure your child is constantly receiving the right dose.

With general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist uses a combination of various medications to:

  • relieve anxiety
  • keep your child asleep
  • minimize pain during surgery and relieve pain afterward (using drugs called analgesics)
  • relax the muscles, which helps to keep your child still
  • block out the memory of the surgery

After surgery, the anesthesiologist reverses the anesthesia process to help your child "wake up." It usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour for kids to recover completely from general anesthesia. This recovery period is monitored by specially trained nurses in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) or recovery room. During recovery, your child is still under the care of the anesthesiologist.

Regional Anesthesia

An anesthetic drug is injected near a cluster of nerves, numbing a larger area of the body (such as below the waist).

A child who receives regional anesthesia is usually asleep before the procedure is done. However, older kids or those who would be at unacceptable risk by being asleep may be sedated during the procedure. For example, if a child is overweight, it may be difficult for the anesthesiologist to feels the bones that help guide correct placement of the needle.

In kids, regional and general anesthesia are often combined, except in very special circumstances. Regional anesthesia is generally used to make someone more comfortable during and after the surgical procedure.

If regional anesthesia is appropriate for your child, you'll discuss this with the anesthesiologist. The time required to recover from the numbing effect will vary depending on the type of regional anesthetic used.

Local Anesthesia

An anesthetic drug (which can be given as a shot, spray, or ointment) numbs only a small, specific area of the body (for example, a foot, hand, or patch of skin). With local anesthesia, a person is awake or sedated, depending on what's best for the patient.

Local anesthesia is often used for minor outpatient procedures (when patients come in for surgery and can go home that same day). If your child is having an outpatient surgery or procedure in a clinic or doctor's office (such as the dentist or dermatologist), this is probably the type of anesthetic that will be used.

The medicine can numb the area during the procedure and for a short time afterward, helping to control discomfort after surgery. The numbing medicine may wear off in about 2-4 hours.

Will My Child Get a Needle?

Often, anesthesiologists may give children a sedative to help them feel sleepy or relaxed before a procedure or surgery. Then, kids who are getting general anesthesia may be given medication through a special breathing mask first and then be given an IV after they're asleep. Why? Because many kids are afraid of needles and young children may have a hard time staying still and calm.

Thus, needles — typically one of the most frightening aspects of surgery for kids — often can be avoided while the child is awake. Many kids just need to breathe themselves to sleep, which may help ease some anxiety about needles and the overall procedure or surgery.

What Type of Anesthesia Will My Child Get?

The type and amount of anesthesia given will be specifically tailored to your child's needs and will depend on various factors, including:

  • the type of surgery
  • the location of the surgery
  • how long the surgery may take
  • your child's current and previous medical condition
  • any allergies your child may have
  • previous reactions to anesthesia (in your child or family members)
  • medications your child is taking
  • your child's age, height, and weight

In some cases, you may be able to request which type of anesthesia your child gets. The anesthesiologist can discuss the options available, but, ultimately, will make the decision based on your child's individual needs and best interests.

Reviewed by: Judith A. Jones, MD
Date reviewed: April 2012



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Medical Association (AMA) The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 464-5000
OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
OrganizationAmerican College of Surgeons The website of the American College of Surgeons provides consumer information about common surgeries such as appendectomy.


Related Articles

Preparing Your Child for Surgery Good preparation can help your child feel less anxious about getting surgery. Kids of all ages cope much better if they have an idea of what's going to happen and why.
Anesthesia - What to Expect Here's a quick look at what may happen before, during, and after on the day of your child's operation or procedure.
Preparing Your Child for Anesthesia If your child needs to have an operation, you probably have plenty of questions, many of them about anesthesia.
Anesthesia Basics Knowing the basics of anesthesia may help answer your questions and ease some concerns — both yours and your child's.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com



 

Upcoming Events

Wear a red shirt and join community partners walking from Our Lady of the Rosary School to the Kroc Center

Child car seat safety check by certified technicians

Blue Ribbon Nite Gala to support the Child Advocacy Center of Warren County

Join us for this special one night only event to raise money for Dayton Children's! Mingle with several of your favorite Dayton media celebrities including Nancy Wilson and several WHIO-TV personalities. Country Music superstars Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn will be performing live!

View full event calendarView full event calendar

Health and Safety

Your child's health and safety is our top priority

Accreditations

The Children's Medical Center of Dayton Dayton Children's
The Right Care for the Right Reasons

One Children's Plaza - Dayton, Ohio - 45404-1815
937-641-3000
www.childrensdayton.org