Where can I find information about my child’s anaesthetic?

Two leaflets produced by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland provide answers to the questions parents often ask. You can download and read them here:

Your child’s general anaesthetic

Your child’s general anaesthetic for dental treatment

Your child’s anaesthetist will be happy to explain further or clarify any issues when you meet them on the day of surgery.

How should I explain about having an anaesthetic to my child?

It is important that your child understands a little about the reason why they are visiting the hospital. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to describe what will happen, especially if your child is young or you have little experience of hospitals yourself. There are some useful information leaflets written for children, which may help to explain the processes of anaesthesia and the choices available. You can download them here:

‘Rees Bear has an anaesthetic’  is designed to be shared with younger children and has some useful tips for parents on the back page.

Davy the Detective – finding out about anaesthetics is a comic style story designed for children of Junior School age,  but which contains anaesthesia information relevant for patients of all ages.

General anaesthesia – a brief guide for young peopleis a succinct guide for today’s busy teenagers and young adults.

You and your anaesthetic: a young person’s web guide is a comprehensive, illustrated, interactive source of information for those seeking more detail.

When should I start to talk to my child about the anaesthetic?

The best timing for these discussions varies with the age of your child. Children between 2 and 3 years old should be told about the hospital visit 2-3 days before and then again on the day, whereas for children between 4 and 7 years old, up to a week in advance is appropriate. Older children and young people have usually been more involved in making decisions about the operation or investigation and so you are likely to have been talking about it for weeks before the day of admission.

Are there any words or terms I should avoid?

It is generally better to use positive language when describing unfamiliar procedures to a child. For instance, the word ‘needle’ may be frightening, but if an intravenous cannula is described as a ‘tiny tube in the back of your hand’ it may be less worrying. Anaesthetic gas may be described as ‘sleepy air’ which smells like felt-tip pens, and the anaesthetic mask can be likened to a ‘plastic bubble’. The terms used in the Rees Bear booklet are suitable for young children, whereas appropriate and accurate medical terms are used in Davy the Detective.

How can I reduce my child’s anxiety?

Children very easily pick up on their parents’ feelings, so one of the most important things you can do to help your child is to remain calm and relaxed yourself. It may be tempting not to talk to your child very much about their visit to the hospital, because you feel that this will spare them some worry, but children who have not been prepared for anaesthesia and surgery often find the experience much more difficult than those that have worked through their concerns in advance. Some of the following points may help you to reassure your child:

  • An anaesthetic is when a doctor gives you medicine so that you don’t feel, hear or see anything during a test or operation. It’s a bit like a really deep sleep.
  • Anaesthetics can be started with a tiny tube in your hand or a mask –  it might be possible to choose.
  • You can usually have cream on your hands to stop the tiny tube from feeling too sore.
  • The anaesthetist is a doctor who gives you the anaesthetic and stays with you all the way through the operation to look after you and keep you safe.
  • The doctor gives you the anaesthetic for as long as you need it and when they stop the anaesthetic you wake up.
  • Usually a parent or carer can be there as your anaesthetic is started and will be with you again when you wake up.
  • You will be given medicines during the anaesthetic to stop you from feeling sore or sick when you wake up, but you can have more medicine if you need it.
What about children with special needs?

If your child has special needs, you are likely to have extra concerns in addition to those about the anaesthesia and surgery. There is a range of information and resources on our webpage for parents and carers of children with special needs. Please choose ‘Children with special needs’ from the menu on the left.

Will my child have any pain?

Your child’s anaesthetist will use a combination of medicines and local anaesthetic techniques to keep  your child as pain free as possible when they wake up from the anaesthetic.

Your child’s pain will be assessed at regular intervals after surgery, so that extra medicines can be given when necessary. If your child goes home on the same day as the operation, you should be given some advice on how best to keep your child comfortable at home. You will usually need to give your child regular doses of simple painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen for a few days after the operation.

It is much better to give the medicines regularly rather than waiting for your child to become uncomfortable and then giving them as required. It is also important to remember that your child may appear pain-free immediately after the operation if a local anaesthetic technique has been used, but that they may become uncomfortable later. It is important to give the regular medicines before the local anaesthetic wears off.

Will my child be sick?

Your child’s anaesthetist will use a combination of medicines and techniques to try to avoid postoperative nausea and vomiting. Unfortunately, a small proportion of children are still sick after an anaesthetic. Usually this recovers rapidly, but if it persists, extra medicines can be given to help.

What if I have more questions?

Many hospitals invite parents and children for a visit to provide information, answer questions and help to prepare them for the day of surgery. You could contact your hospital to see if you could visit or speak to someone in advance to get more information. Many hospitals also have their own websites, which contain information about local protocols and contact details.

On the day of surgery, you will meet your child’s anaesthetist before it is time for their operation, so that they can find out about your child and discuss a plan for the anaesthetic with you. There will be an opportunity to ask questions during the anaesthetist’s visit.