Is anesthesia safe for my baby?
- Yes, anesthesia, sedation and surgery are extremely safe and effective. Anesthesia is safer now than it has ever been. Advances in the training of clinicians as well as the use of safer medications have allowed even sick babies to undergo complex surgical and diagnostic procedures.
- Despite this record of safety, scientists and physicians continue to look at the toxicities of all medicines that are used in infants and children.
Will anesthesia affect my baby’s brain?
- Scientists have been investigating the effects of anesthetics on the developing brain of animals for more than twenty years.
- While animals, who have long or repeated anesthesia, have problems with learning and behavior later in life, a single carefully administered anesthetic has not been found to be associated with these problems in children.
- Many scientific studies are being done at this time to discover which children might be at special risk.
Are any medications safer than others?
- All medications that are used for sedation or anesthesia can affect normal brain development in animals.
- Opioids (pain medicines like morphine) do not seem to have these same effects.
- There is ongoing research to identify any effective medications that would not produce this effect.
What should I do if my baby requires surgery?
- Parents should discuss all the risks and benefits of diagnostic or surgical procedure with professionals well versed in the management of infants and children. There are many surgeries and procedures that treat life threatening or emergent conditions. There are others that should be done as soon as possible to ensure long-term health.
- Ask your surgeon if the procedure can wait until your child is older than 3. She or he will know the risks of waiting on a recommended surgery.
- Needed surgical or diagnostic procedures should not be avoided on the basis of current information.
- Pain and stress are clearly known to be harmful to developing nervous systems and should be avoided.
- Ask your anesthesiologist if local anesthesia or nerve blocks can be used for your child’s procedure; these may decrease exposure to anesthesia medications.
- Pediatric Anesthesia professionals are trained to use the least harmful medications to avoid problems.
- Pediatric surgical specialists know the importance of timely surgical management.
How will the anesthesiologist keep my child safe?
- They will carefully administer medications to help your child go to sleep and stay safe and comfortable.
- They will monitor your child’s heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and oxygen levels and adjust medications as needed.
- They will do whatever is needed to keep your child’s vital signs stable, and make sure your child does not experience pain during the procedure.
Are there any alternatives to general anesthesia for surgery? Can’t you use sedation?
- In young children, the safest way to perform most surgeries is under general anesthesia.
- Medications currently used for “sedation” have the same toxicities as general anesthetic agents.
- There are a few operations that can be done under spinal anesthesia or other types of nerve blocks.
- Because children do not understand what is happening and why, “light” sedation is often not possible.
- Talk to your anesthesiologist and surgeon for details related to your child’s procedure and conditions.
My 2-year-old requires an MRI scan; can he have this done without any anesthesia?
- The use of MRI scans for diagnosis has increased dramatically in the last ten years.
- MRI exposes children to no radiation, but can take longer than other tests (CAT Scan).
- Most of these scans require general anesthesia in young children and many take 1-2 hours to complete.
- Most young children cannot lie still in a dark, noisy tube (MRI scanner) for that long.
- Discuss the use of MRI for diagnosis, and the risks of general anesthesia with your doctors.
My newborn has an intestinal blockage. The doctors say she needs surgery. Will the anesthesia hurt her brain?
- This surgery is considered an emergency.
- Waiting can lead to many more complications and can threaten the life of your child.
- Pediatric anesthesiologists are trained to provide the safest and most effective anesthesia possible for your baby.
My 1-year-old needs ear tubes for repeated ear infections. Should I wait until he is older to get this done.
- Follow the advice of your Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. Chronic ear infections can cause problems with hearing and speech. It is important that they get treated properly.
- These procedures are short and associated with very little exposure to anesthesia.
- A single short anesthetic is not associated with any developmental problems.
My 18-month-old has a large cut on her face. The surgeon wants to sew it up in the Operating Room, isn’t it safer to get a little sedation in the Emergency Department than getting anesthesia in the Operating Room?
- No, a difficult cut on the face may take a long time to repair well and will require your child to be very still. A general anesthesia in the operating room will be safer and less risky that trying to sedate your child in the Emergency Department.
- No sedative medications have been shown to be safer than any others.
- All the medications used in the Emergency Department to sedate your child have been shown to lead to memory and learning problems in animals.
What is an example of emergency surgery?
- Repair of some heart defects
- Esophageal atresia, a disorder in which the esophagus does not develop properly
- Tracheal problems that are affecting your child's breathing
- Intestinal blockage or twisting of the intestines
- Gastroschisis and omphalocele, which are birth defects of the abdominal wall
- Diaphragmatic hernia, which is a birth defect in which there is an abnormal opening in the diaphragm
- Lung Lesions
- Pyloric stenosis, which is a narrowing of the opening from the stomach into the small intestine
- Removal of appendix or gallbladder
- Hydrocephalus, and other brain surgery
- Spinal cord problems
- Tumors or cancer surgery
- Procedures to help diagnose or treat cancer
- Many of these surgeries will need more than one anesthetic to fix.
Are there other surgeries that should be done before my child is 3 years old?
- Cleft lip or palate repair
- Undescended testes
- Some types of hernias
- Many problems with the urinary or genital tracts
- Repair of skull defects
- Most ear nose and throat procedures
- Most eye surgeries
- Any surgery to help your child's growth, speech, hearing, development, or to help make a diagnosis