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Risks of Child Anesthesia

By Shelley Frost ; Updated July 18, 2017

Surgeries and medical procedures for children requiring anesthesia cause most parents to worry about the possible risks and side effects. While anesthesia continues to improve in safety, some risks accompany its use in both children and adults. Understanding the risks helps you prepare yourself and your child for the procedure. And certain precautions help reduce the risk for complications of the anesthesia.

Side Effects

Side effects are typically not life threatening and wear off after the anesthesia has left your child's system. Your child may feel nauseated or vomit. Drowsiness, dizziness or a state of agitation lasting up to an hour sometimes occur as a child comes out of the anesthesia. Other side effects include shivers, aching, rash, puffiness, swelling, paleness, congestion or a sore throat. Some children also need oxygen along with the anesthesia.


More serious complications are rare but still possible while your child is under anesthesia. Injury to the teeth, vocal cords, arteries, veins and nerves are a possibility. Your child may experience changes in his blood pressure or erratic heart rhythms. In rare cases, an allergic reaction occurs to the drugs used as the anesthesia. If your child vomits while under anesthesia, he runs the risk of breathing in the vomit and having an inflammation of the lungs or pneumonia. In very rare cases, death is a possible complication from anesthesia.

Long-Term Effects

Brain damage that results in a long-term difficulty for the child is a possible complication. According to the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia, both brain damage and death are the two rarest complications stemming from anesthesia use. The "New York Times" reported in March 2011 that a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel had begun researching the long-term effects of anesthesia on a child's cognitive and learning skills. The concern is that anesthesia administered in young children, especially repeated uses of the drugs, may slow the child cognitively. In most cases, the need for the surgery is critical so the risks of long-term cognitive problems are outweighed.


You child's medical staff provides instructions for preparing him for the procedure to reduce complications. This often includes stopping solid foods and even liquids for a period of time before the procedure. Follow these instructions carefully. Also supply your physician and the anesthesiologist with all relevant health information, including any health conditions, allergies, medications and over-the-counter products your child uses. This information is crucial in selecting the appropriate type of anesthesia for your child. Choose an anesthesiologist who is experienced in administering anesthesia to children.

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