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Types of Anesthesia for Children

What is anesthesia?

During surgery, your child will be given some form of anesthesia. This is medicine for the relief of pain and any feeling during surgery. The type and dosage of anesthesia is managed by a healthcare provider who gives the medicine. You and your child will meet with an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist before the procedure. They will review your child's medical condition and health history to plan the right anesthetic for surgery.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

There are different types of anesthesia. The type your child will get will depend on the type of surgery and your child's medical condition. Usually, a child will also get a sedative. This is to help them feel relaxed and a little sleepy. This is in addition to the anesthetic. The different types of anesthesia include:

Local anesthesia

This is given to temporarily stop the feeling of pain in 1 part of the body. Your child stays awake with a local anesthetic. For minor surgery, a local anesthetic can be given by injection to the site. If a large area needs to be numbed, or an injection will not go deep enough, regional anesthesia may be used.

Regional anesthesia

This is used to numb only the part of the body where the procedure will be done. First, an injection of local anesthetic is given in the area of nerves that provide feeling to that part of the body. There are several forms of regional anesthetics. These are 2 common types:

  • Spinal anesthetic. This is used for lower belly, pelvic, rectal, or leg surgery. This type is used by injecting a single dose of the anesthetic into the subarachnoid space. This space surrounds the spinal cord. The injection is made into the lower back, below the end of the spinal cord. It causes numbness in the lower body. Rarely, continuous spinal anesthesia may be used. This may be done for a long procedure. A thin tube (catheter) is left in place in the subarachnoid space. This is used for more injections of the anesthetic. This ensures numbness during the whole procedure.

  • Epidural anesthetic. This is similar to a spinal anesthetic. It's often used for surgery of the lower limbs and during labor and childbirth. This type of anesthesia is done by continually sending an anesthetic medicine through a thin catheter. The catheter is placed into the space that surrounds the spinal cord in the lower back, just outside the subarachnoid space. This causes numbness in the lower body. Epidural anesthesia may also be used for chest surgery. In this case, the anesthetic medicine is injected at a higher location in the back to numb the chest and belly.

General anesthesia

General anesthesia puts your child in a state like deep sleep through surgery. The medicine may be inhaled through a breathing mask or tube. Or it may be given through an IV line. This is a thin plastic tube put into a vein. A breathing tube may be put down into the windpipe to keep proper breathing during surgery. Once the surgery is done, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist stops the anesthetic and the child wakes up in the recovery room.

After surgery

Once the surgery is done, full recovery from anesthesia continues in the recovery room. This usually takes 1 to 2 hours. Expect your child to be sleepy and to doze off often. Some children become very excited and confused when they wake up from anesthesia. This reaction can be disturbing, but usually lasts only a short time.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jimmy Moe MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
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