For Parents of Young Children Who Need Surgery: A Look at Anesthesia Use in Children

Effects of Anesthesia on Young Children

As the parent of a young child who needs surgery, you may be concerned about the effects of anesthesia on your child. Until recently, the common side effects of anesthesia in children (sleepiness, grouchiness) were believed to be mild and short-term, typically lasting only an hour or two.

Doctors and scientists have been studying the effects of anesthesia on the developing brain for two decades, and recently published research indicates that short, brief exposure to anesthesia in patients, aged three years and under, does not cause long-term cognitive effects. However, there are concerns about young children undergoing multiple procedures or longer surgeries (greater than three hours). Scientists call this “neurotoxicity,” and you may have read about the risk to children in The Wall Street Journal. In December 2016, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about the potential interaction in this age group.

Doctors who use anesthesia in procedures for young children have to use their best judgment. The latest warning from the FDA is not meant to delay necessary procedures for children in this age group. The doctors at Hospital for Special Surgery are up to date with the latest research and understand your concerns.

HSS – Expertise in Regional Anesthesia

Use of regional anesthesia is recommended by experts to help minimize the risk of neurotoxicity.  Examples of regional anesthesia include epidurals, spinals and various nerve blocks that make extremities completely numb. The doctors at Hospital for Special Surgery have utilized these regional anesthesia techniques extensively for the last twenty-five years, and have performed them expertly in children of all ages. Our experienced anesthesiologists perform hundreds of regional anesthetics or “blocks” on children every month.  If surgery cannot be avoided in your young child, you can be confident that the HSS approach will minimize your child's exposure to anesthetic agents.

Finally, if you are preparing a young child for surgery, it is important to remember that your anesthesiologist will tailor the amount and type of anesthesia your child needs to ensure he or she is safe and comfortable before, during, and after the procedure.

See more information about Pediatric Regional Anesthesia at HSS.

For more information about anesthesia and children, visit


Kathryn (Kate) DelPizzo, MD
Director of Pediatric Anesthesiology, Hospital for Special Surgery
Clinical Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medical College

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