Newswise — Chicago – When surgery is necessary, anesthesia ensures your child can safely receive life-saving or corrective treatment while managing the pain and discomfort of the procedure. Anesthesia’s effect on the developing brain is being researched continually, and you’ll be comforted to know that anesthesia provided during one brief surgery is considered safe by the experts at the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

“Parents should rest assured that surgery is only recommended when necessary and your child will be monitored during every minute of the procedure to ensure the safest and most effective care,” said Linda Mason, M.D., ASA president-elect and a pediatric physician anesthesiologist. “In an effort to continually improve anesthesia, physician anesthesiologists have been at the forefront of research on the effects of anesthesia on children – and adults – and continue to study this important issue.”

In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning noting that repeated or lengthy use of general anesthesia and sedation drugs may affect the development of children’s brains. However, the warning was based primarily on results from studies of laboratory animals that may not translate to humans. Further, it is important to recognize there are other factors that may affect the developing brain including the illness or condition being treated, existing health issues, the surgery itself and inflammation.

“There have been hundreds of studies published over the past 50 years investigating anesthesia’s effect on the developing brain with no conclusive findings on whether the use of anesthesia poses a risk,” Dr. Mason said. “Parents should consider the benefits of surgery, which is likely necessary for their child’s health and safety.”

To address concern created by the 2016 FDA warning, in addition to this study, two major literature review articles and three editorials written by thought leaders and experts on the effects of anesthesia in the developing brain – one focused on children and the other on young animals – were published in the April issue of Anesthesiology, the peer-reviewed medical journal of the ASA.

As a parent, you want to be sure your child gets the best and safest care. To that end, ASA offers the following guidance:

  • Don’t delay or avoid surgery: Work closely with your child’s surgeon and other physicians to determine if surgery is the right choice. In most cases, delaying or avoiding surgery may mean the child does not receive much-needed care. For example, if your child’s doctor recommends placing tubes to drain fluid in the ears and prevent ongoing infection, not doing the procedure increases the risk of delayed speech and language development, which can affect social and academic success.
  • Talk to the physician anesthesiologist: Before your child’s surgery, you will have the chance to talk with the physician anesthesiologist, who will be sure your child has a comfortable and pain-free procedure. Highly trained to ensure safe, high-quality care, the physician anesthesiologist will monitor your child through the entire surgery so he or she stays warm, gets enough oxygen, has stable blood pressure and receives necessary fluids. There are many types of anesthesia, including sedation, general and regional (such as spinal). Depending on the location and type of surgery, your child may have more than one anesthesia option. Be sure to ask the physician anesthesiologist about those options as well as any other questions you have, such as:
    • How can I ensure my child has a successful surgery?
    • How can I help my child prepare?
    • Is anesthesia safe for my child?
  • Rest assured that limited exposure is considered safe: Experts note that a single, relatively short exposure to anesthesia and surgery is unlikely to have negative effects on behavior or learning. And most common surgeries in children require anesthesia for less than two hours. Research continues regarding the use of anesthesia in repeated or longer surgeries. But parents should be confident that physicians are aware of the concerns and will only recommend a surgery or procedure if necessary.

“ASA is committed to advancing research regarding this issue and its physician scientist members are active in cutting-edge research both in the laboratory and at the patient’s bedside,” said Dr. Mason. “Through the SmartTots program, ASA partners with the International Anesthesia Research Society and the FDA to support research funding to investigate the safety of anesthesia for infants and young children.”

Learn about preparing your child for surgery and questions to ask about anesthesia safety for your young child at Additionally, download ASA’s companion coloring book for children who are about to undergo anesthesia and surgery.



Founded in 1905, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational, research and scientific society with more than 52,000 members organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology. ASA is committed to ensuring physician anesthesiologists evaluate and supervise the medical care of patients before, during and after surgery to provide the highest quality and safest care every patient deserves.

For more information on the field of anesthesiology, visit the American Society of Anesthesiologists online at To learn more about the role physician anesthesiologists play in ensuring patient safety, visit Like ASA on Facebook; follow ASALifeline on Twitter.


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