What is Local Anesthesia
Local anesthesia is used to numb a specific body part prior to a minor surgical procedure. In most cases, the surgery is done on outpatient basis and the patient goes home before the day is over. One example of local anesthesia that most people are familiar with is when a dentist numbs the gums in order to fill a cavity, pull a tooth or perform another dental procedure.
Other common uses of local anesthesia are to remove a mole or other skin lesion, to perform a biopsy or other types of minor surgery. If an injury has occurred requiring stitches, local anesthesia is used to numb the area during the sewing up process. The types of surgery that respond well to local anesthesia are ones that do not require deep muscle relaxation.
The anesthesia takes effect fairly quickly and numbness can last from half an hour up to twelve hours, depending on the nature of the procedure and the amount of anesthetic that is administered. If the procedure lasts longer than expected, more anesthesia can be administered.
Patient Care and Safety
Even though local anesthesia has fewer complications than general anesthesia and is used for more minor surgeries, the anesthesia provider will review the patient’s health and medical history. This will include an evaluation of all previous experiences with any type of anesthesia.
It is important for patients to give the provider a list of all allergies and all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that are currently being taken. The provider needs to know if the patient smokes or uses alcohol. Only then can the provider determine the type of local anesthesia that will work best for the individual patient.
Delivering Local Anesthesia
Local anesthetics are not injected into the bloodstream but directly into the tissue surrounding the area where the surgery will take place. Sometimes, depending on the part of the body that needs to be numbed, a gel or cream may be used to numb the area. Sometimes, the gel or cream is applied to the area before the needle with the anesthetic is injected into the body.
The local anesthetic blocks the nerve endings from receiving pain signals so the brain does not get the message that there is any pain. Even though the pain signals are blocked and the procedure should be painless, the patient, who stays awake, may still feel some pressure.
Often, local anesthetics are given in conjunction with medication that has a sedating affect. This reduces anxiety in patients and makes it easier for them to relax. These medications are usually given through an IV.
During the procedure, the patient’s vital signs, including blood pressure, respiration, and blood oxygen levels, will be monitored. There is minimal risk, but providers are alert to any change that may require an adjustment in the amount of anesthesia that is administered. Emergency equipment will be kept nearby just as a precautionary measure.
How Long Does Local Anesthesia Last?
Typically, anesthesia can last several hours but occasionally it can last up to a day, after which it will begin to wear off. This depends on the type of local anesthetic used and the region of the body into which it is injected. You will notice either a return of movement or increase in pain, which is when you will need to take or be given pain relief. This can be done in tablet form or by injection into a muscle or vein.
After the Procedure
The area may be numb for several hours. Patients need to be careful during this time not to injure the numb area before the anesthetic wears off. For example, dental patients may bite their cheek or tongue while the area is still numb from the anesthetic. The provider who performed the procedure will likely give the patient pain medication to take for a period of time. Depending on the type and extent of the procedure, there may be some pain in the area after the local anesthetic wears off and while the area is healing.
Patients who are given sedation along with the local anesthetic will need to have someone drive them home after the procedure. The effects of the sedation will make patients drowsy and compromise coordination.
There are very few side effects to local anesthesia. If sedation was used, on rare occasions, patients may experience a headache or nausea after the sedation wears off.