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General anaesthetic (child)

2-minute read

This page will give you information about a general anaesthetic. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

You can also download and print a PDF version of this factsheet, with space for your own questions or notes.

What is a general anaesthetic?

A general anaesthetic is a combination of drugs that causes deep sleep. It is used for operations or procedures as it causes a loss of sensation. Your child will not be aware of what is happening and afterwards will not remember anything that has happened.

How is a general anaesthetic given?

Most older children are sent to sleep by injecting the anaesthetic through a drip (small tube) in a vein. The injection takes about 30 seconds to work. Some children prefer to go to sleep by breathing an anaesthetic gas through a face mask. This technique is more common in younger children and babies.

Are there any alternatives to a general anaesthetic?

For certain procedures, such as a scan, your child may be able to have sedation. For smaller operations, your anaesthetist may consider a local anaesthetic injected near the area of surgery. The options depend on how mature your child is and their ability to stay calm and still.

What complications can happen?

Minor complications

  • feeling or being sick
  • sore throat
  • behavioural changes
  • dental damage

Serious complications

  • nerve injury
  • slow or irregular heartbeat
  • cardiac arrest (where the heart stops working)
  • breathing problems
  • allergic reaction

How will my anaesthetist know that my child is really asleep?

Your anaesthetist continuously monitors the amount of anaesthetic in your child's body to reduce the risk of your child being aware of what is happening.


A general anaesthetic is usually a safe and effective way for your child to have an operation or procedure. Most children do not have any problems.

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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Last reviewed: September 2018

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