Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

General anaesthetic (child)

3-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.

What is a general anaesthetic?

A general anaesthetic is a combination of drugs that produce 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.

What are the benefits of a general anaesthetic?

Your child needs to have an operation or procedure. So that your surgeon or doctor can perform the operation safely, your child needs to be in a state where they do not move and their muscles are relaxed. A safe way to achieve this is to give your child a general anaesthetic.

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.

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. Your child may be a bit restless as the gas begins to work but it usually takes only a minute for them to go to sleep.

When the operation has finished, the anaesthetic wears off, allowing your child to wake up again.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

Minor complications (not disabling or life-threatening)

  • feeling or being sick after the operation
  • 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

Summary

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.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
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.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo