Surgery can be stressful for both a child and their parent or caregiver. Thinking about your child being unconscious for several hours during an operation can make you feel uneasy. Thankfully, anesthesia is a generally safe and effective way to keep pediatric patients comfortable and with as little pain as possible during surgery. Learning more about the process of anesthesia can help you feel prepared and confident on the day of your child’s surgery, which will help your child feel more relaxed.
There are three main types:
- Local anesthesia: This type only numbs a specific, small part of the body. Local anesthesia is used for minor or same-day procedures, such as stitching a cut or pulling a tooth. Depending on the type of surgery, it is given in the form of a shot, spray or lotion. Your child will be alert during the procedure but will feel less pain.
- Regional anesthesia: This type is used to numb a larger area of the body. Your child may be sedated or asleep. Regional anesthesia may be used for orthopedic surgery, eye surgery, operations on the urinary tract or other minor procedures. It may also be used for major operations in combination with general anesthesia to numb or reduce pain in an area of the body after your child wakes up from surgery.
- General anesthesia: This type will cause your child to be completely unconscious with no awareness or memory of the surgery, while being closely monitored by an anesthesia doctor or nurse. General anesthesia is used for major operations, like surgery on the heart, lungs, intestines, brain or orthopaedic (bone) surgery. General anesthesia may also be used with your child to help perform tests to help find a diagnosis, such as biopsy, special hearing tests, MRI or CT scans.
Your healthcare team begins preparing for anesthesia care before the actual day of your child’s surgery. A few days before your child’s appointment, you both may visit with or receive a phone call from the anesthesiology preoperative clinic. The anesthesiologist will ask detailed questions about medical history to ensure your child receives the safest anesthetic plan specific to their surgery and past history. You’ll also be given specific preparation instructions for your child to follow the day(s) before and the day of surgery for a safe, uncomplicated procedure.
In the operating room, your anesthesiologist may give your child medicine or gas to help calm them before inserting the IV. This will reduce anxiety and discomfort while your child goes to sleep. While your child is receiving anesthesia, the anesthesia doctor and/or nurse will continuously monitor your child’s condition and vital signs and adjust the anesthesia care as necessary. After the procedure, your child will be taken to a post-anesthesia care unit, or for some surgeries a special pediatric critical care unit. This is where the anesthesiology team and post-anesthesia nurse monitors your child and helps them recover comfortably.
Children react differently to anesthesia than adults. This is why Kentucky Children’s Hospital has a team of pediatric anesthesiology specialists who are trained specifically to care for infants and children. Pediatric anesthesiologists are doctors who undergo extensive training, including four years of medical school, four years of specialized anesthesiology residency after medical school, plus at least one additional year of fellowship training dedicated to anesthesia care and pain management for children.
Our pediatric anesthesiology nurses, working under the supervision of the anesthesiologist, are Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists with several years of experience in bedside nursing, critical care and anesthesiology. You can rest assured that your anesthesia team is highly specialized and dedicated to safely administering anesthesia to children. Our anesthesiologists can answer any further concerns you have before your child’s surgery.