“Is anesthesia safe for my child?” The question highlights the anxiety and concern experienced by any parent whose child is facing anesthesia for a surgical procedure. Thankfully, the results of recent research, along with knowledge of what to expect during such procedures, may provide a comforting answer.
A group of Swedish researchers took a look at how anesthesia on children under 4 impacted their later cognitive development as adolescents According to the findings, only slightly lower academic performance and IQ scores were noted. Does this mean that parents should be worried?
Although the noted impacts were statistically significant, the authors of the study emphasized that such risks were minimal. Other factors, such as environmental, medical, and, of course individual, are far more influential. Parents also need to weigh any such impact with the potentially far greater risk of postponing needed surgeries.
Another thing that may help to allay at least some of a parent’s misgivings is knowing what to expect when a child undergoes an operation.
The first thing that may happen is a pre-anesthesia interview, which may take place anywhere from a few weeks to just prior to surgery. The anesthesiologist will need to know about your child’s medical history, including any previous surgeries It’s a good idea to bring with you to this visit a current list of medications and any allergies You can also expect to be given an explanation of what type of anesthesia will be used for the procedure.
Local. This is typically an injected numbing agent to a specific area of the body. Before getting stitches to an injury would be one example.
MAC. Standing for Monitored Anesthesia Care, your child will be heavily sedated but able to be awakened during the procedure if needed. An example of this would be major orthodontic work.
General. This is what most people imagine when they think of anesthesia. After the anesthesiologist administers a powerful sedative, either through a mask or an IV, he will place a breathing tube to maintain the child’s airway and breathing. The tube is then removed after the procedure, and the child will be monitored very closely for about an hour in the recovery area by a dedicated staff of nurses and doctors.
Many anesthetic agents may result in a decrease of normal reflexes, such as those that usually protect a person’s airway. That is why it’s very important to follow any pre-anesthesia instructions, such as nothing by mouth or clear liquids only, before surgery. That will help to prevent a patient’s stomach contents from ending up in their lungs
Your anesthesiologist will let you know if you can be present for any part of the procedure, but be prepared for the fact that many environments and situations do not allow for this. It would be unusual for a parent not to be traumatized at the sight of a surgical procedure being carried out on their own child. A surgeon would much prefer to be completely focused on the operation. You can expect, however, to be by your child’s side in the pre-operative area, where your calming influence will be much appreciated. This is also where they may receive a medication to help them relax.
Afterwards, you are most likely to first see your child an hour or so after recovery from anesthesia. It’s not unusual for a child to be groggy, confused, nauseated, or even tearful. This will pass as the anesthesia continues to clear from a patient’s system.
Ultimately, kids will forget much of the entire experience of anesthesia and surgery. In fact, as pointed out by the research team in Sweden, any long-term effects are likely to be minimal. So, although parents‘ concern for their children as they undergo anesthesia is normal and healthy, they can also gain some comfort from the results of that study and knowing what to expect.
Reference: Dr. Glatz, Pia, et al. “Association of Anesthesia and Surgery During Childhood With Long-term Academic Performance.” Journal article. JAMA Pediatrics. American Medical Association. 7 Nov., 2016. Web.