All Conditions & Treatments

Why Do Anesthesiologists Care About a Common Cold?

The cold, flu and sinus-infection season can be a tricky time to have surgery. While the ‘common’ cold can be just that, if your child is scheduled for an upcoming surgery, a respiratory illness can increase your child’s risk of complications under anesthesia.

Respiratory illnesses such as colds, flu, or sinus infections may interfere with oxygenation – the delivery of oxygen to the body. This risk is increased for a few weeks after recovery from a respiratory viral or bacterial infection.

Other factors may also increase the risk of anesthesia complications when present with a cold:

  • a history of asthma
  • a fever
  • what type of surgery your child is having

Hopefully you and your family spend all winter illness-free but if not, here are some tips for what to do and what to expect if your child is sick and has an upcoming surgery:

  1. If you feel your child is too ill for his or her scheduled surgery, you should contact the surgeon’s office and speak with their medical staff. Tell the providers about your child’s symptoms, their durations, and any treatments he or she has received. They can guide you on your options such as canceling the surgery in advance or proceeding with the appointment and being evaluated by an anesthesiologist prior to surgery. They may recommend that your child see a pediatrician before making any decisions about surgery.
  2. The day of surgery, your child’s anesthesiologist will review the medical history and history of his or her current illness to determine if your child is at significant risk for complications under anesthesia.
  3. If your child’s risk under anesthesia is significant and the surgery is not an emergency, it may be recommended to reschedule surgery. All of the healthcare providers caring for your child want to ensure that surgery proceeds as safely as possible.


Pamela K. Wendel, MD

Assistant Attending Anesthesiologist, Hospital for Special Surgery
Clinical Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medical College

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