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Anesthesia - Frequently Asked Questions - Parents

1. What is anesthesia?

During surgery or procedures, children receive medication(s) called anesthesia. This prevents them from feeling pain or moving about. There are two main types of anesthesia:

  • General anesthesia places children in a controlled state of unconsciousness. This is often referred to as 'being asleep.' Regional or local anesthesia is used to numb the area of the body that is being operated on. This is often called 'freezing'.

Most children will receive general anesthesia. They may also receive regional anesthesia to help manage pain.

2. Who is the anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who has had many years of specialized training. These doctors are experts in caring for children who require anesthesia and managing pain. This doctor will give your child the anesthesia and monitor him or her closely during surgery. You will meet your child's anesthesiologist on the day of surgery. We encourage you to ask questions or express any concerns at this time.

3. How is the anesthesia given to my child?

Children having a surgical procedure require an intravenous (IV) line for most procedures.

  • The IV can be inserted after numbing cream or a cold numbing spray is applied to the hand.  A small needle is used to place a tiny plastic straw into a vein, often in the hand.   Your child will fall asleep quickly after the medicine is given.


  • An induction mask can be given first and then the IV is inserted once your child is asleep.  Your child will need to breathe the scented anesthetic gas using the mask for at least 30-60 seconds before falling asleep.  Although breathing the gases using the mask does not hurt, some children find the process uncomfortable.

Regional anesthesia is injected either around the incision area or near the nerves that supply the body area being operated on. This is usually given after the child is asleep.

The anesthesiologist will decide the best and safest approach for your child, based on his or her age, medical history, and type of surgery. As well, a breathing device is often used to help maintain proper breathing during surgery.

4. What type of problems or side effects can my child have from the anesthesia?

Fortunately, the chance of having any serious problems is very low. The problems we most often see are minor. For most children, these effects do not usually last longer than 24 hours. Children may:

  • feel sick to their stomach or throw up
  • be cranky or confused while waking up
  • have a sore throat
  • feel sleepy and may nap off and on
  • feel dizzy
  • be unsteady on their feet or uncoordinated

Less common problems include:

  • wheezing (noisy breathing)
  • injuries to the mouth or teeth
  • a hoarse voice or barky cough

Children who are given regional anesthesia to numb their lower body will not be able to feel or move their legs for a few hours after surgery.

Teens should not drive. Children should avoid play that requires good coordination (climbing, running, bicycle riding) for 24 hours.

The chance of your child having any problems with anesthesia depends on your child's age, overall health, and the type of surgery. The doctor will speak with you about the anesthesia and any possible problems.

5. What happens if my child gets sick before surgery?

If your child is sick, the surgery may be cancelled until your child is feeling better. The anesthesiologist will decide whether your child is well enough to receive anesthesia, based on his or her general health and the type of surgery.

6. Why can't my child eat or drink before having surgery?

Your child cannot eat or drink before surgery because his or her stomach needs to be empty. When anesthesia is given, the muscles that normally prevent stomach contents from going into our lungs are affected. Thus, if there is anything in the stomach, it could go into the lungs. If this happens, your child can become quite sick, it can even be life threatening. You will be told what time your child should stop eating or drinking. It is important to follow these times so that your child's surgery isn't delayed or cancelled.

7. What if my child is nervous before surgery?

It is normal to be nervous before surgery. Studies show that preparing children is the best way to help them cope. To learn more about what your child may be concerned about, go to Telling Your Child. If your child is very nervous on the day of surgery, tell your nurse. Children can be given medicine to help them relax. Contact the Child Life department for ideas on how to prepare your child for their upcoming surgery child.life@ahs.ca.

8. Can I be with my child while he or she falls asleep?

It can be helpful to have a parent stay with their child until they are asleep. The team of doctors and nurses caring for your child considers many factors when making this decision. The most important factor is your child's safety. The anesthesiologist will discuss with you the best option for your child.

9. Will my child wake up during the surgery?

Waking up during surgery (awareness) is very rare. The anesthesiologist monitors your child closely during surgery, giving your child the amount of medicine he or she needs to remain asleep.

10. Can I be there when my child wakes up in the recovery room?

Parents may be asked to come into the recovery room when their child wakes up in order to provide comfort and reassurance to their child. If you are needed in the recovery room, a staff member will come get you and will bring you to your child’s bedside. For more information please review the following documents: PACU – Things to Know and PACU – Frequently Asked Questions. It is not possible to have every parent present in the recovery room; this decision is based on the needs of your child, how long your child will be in the recovery room and how busy the recovery room is. Our goal is to have your child back with you as soon as possible.

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