Anesthesia and Children

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by Mark Moore, MD

My son needs ear tube surgery -- how dangerous is the anesthesia?

Ear-tube surgery or placement of "myringotomy" tubes is the most common surgery of childhood requiring anesthesia. A tiny hole is made in the eardrum through which a plastic tube is inserted. This allows drainage and prevents infection from building up behind the eardrum. The surgery takes only minutes, nonetheless, the patient must be fully asleep under general anesthesia. Herein lies the risk. Anesthesia in the United States is considered safe; however, there can be variability among providers and hospitals. Over twenty million anesthetics are delivered per year yet less than one in twenty-thousand have a serious reaction or problem with anesthesia. That said, the risk is not zero. Minor reactions and incidents may occur more commonly.

What can you do? Choose a reputable surgeon and discuss with him or her your child's treatment plan and who their choice of anesthesiologist would be. It is particularly important to have an anesthesiologist with pediatric training and experience. You can request to meet your anesthesiologist beforehand or phone conference with them. Even email can be helpful to answer specific questions you may have.

A child's recovery from anesthesia upon arrival home can be highly varied. It can range from "sleeping all day" to "wild and wooly" to anywhere in between. Should they wake in a hyperactive state, make sure they don't hurt themselves -- they will have clouded thinking and unsteady legs -- so keep a much closer eye on them than usual. You can lower the incidence of post-op nausea by leaning toward a light/clear liquid diet and advance slowly. If you have more than one child at home, ask a friend or family member to come over and help out. Keep your list of hospital and provider phone numbers readily available should a question arise.

Mark Moore, MD is an experienced Anesthesiologist, sub-specializating in women's and children's anesthesia. He holds board certifications in both Anesthesiology and Pain Management. Dr. Moore and his wife, Lisa, a pediatric nurse, are the authors of Baby Girl or Baby Boy. They live in Tallahassee, Florida.>

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