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local anaesthesia

Anaesthesia means a loss of feeling or inability to feel pain. Local anaesthesia is a method of pain prevention in a small area of the body. The medication used is commonly called numbing medication.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Anyone who undergoes a painful procedure may be a candidate for local anaesthesia. This type of anaesthesia is usually used for minor procedures. Examples are getting sutures for a cut or having a tooth pulled. Local anaesthesia can also be used for minor surgery, such as a hernia repair.

How is the procedure performed?
Local numbing medication is injected into the skin or other surface at the site of the procedure. The injection is usually near the surface, but may be deeper in some cases.

The site of the procedure is first cleaned with an antibacterial cleanser. The medication used to numb the area is then injected using a very small needle. The medication may cause a stinging or burning sensation at first. This discomfort lasts for just a few seconds.

It takes a few minutes for the medication to have its full effect. The person should be unable to feel pain in the treated area. A pressure sensation may be felt when the area is cut or poked with needles. But pain should be absent. If pain is felt, the person should tell the doctor. More medication can be injected to control pain.

If a person is anxious, sedative medication can be given. The sedative may be a pill or may be given through an intravenous line (IV) inserted into the vein of the arm or hand. This medication can help the person relax. The numbing medication generally wears off within an hour of the procedure.

What happens right after the procedure?
Procedures that use local numbing medication are usually minor. A person may be able to go home soon after a minor procedure, such as getting sutures. If sedatives were used, someone else must drive the person home. This is because sedatives can impair co-ordination and reflexes for several hours.

What happens later at home?
Local anaesthesia requires no home care. But the procedure itself may require monitoring and treatment. The procedure usually causes more problems at home than the medication. The person may feel some discomfort at the procedure site as the numbing medication wears off.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?
Local anaesthesia is unlikely to cause any complications. However, allergic reactions are possible and may cause temporary breathing problems. In rare cases, if the medication is accidentally injected into the bloodstream, or too much is used, seizures or arrhythmias may occur.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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