Anesthesia, local


Local, or regional, anesthesia involves the injection or application of an anesthetic drug to a specific area of the body. This is in contrast to general anesthesia, which provides anesthesia to the entire body and brain.


Local anesthetics are used to prevent patients from feeling pain during medical, surgical, or dental procedures. Over-the-counter local anesthetics are also available to provide temporary relief from pain, irritation, and itching caused by various conditions such as cold sores, canker sores, sore throats, sunburn, insect bites, poison ivy, and minor cuts and scratches.


People who feel strongly that they do not want to be awake and alert during certain procedures may not be good candidates for local or regional anesthesia. However, other medications that have systemic effects may be given in addition to an anesthetic to relieve anxiety and help the patient relax.

Local anesthetics should be used only for the conditions for which they are intended. For example, a topical anesthetic meant to relieve sunburn pain should not be used on cold sores. Anyone who has had an unusual reaction to any local anesthetic in the past should check with a doctor before using any type of local anesthetic again. The doctor should also be told about any allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or other substances.

Older people may be more sensitive to the effects of local anesthetics, especially lidocaine. Children may also be especially sensitive to some local anesthetics, and certain types should not be used at all on young children. People caring for these groups need to be aware that they are at increased risk of more severe side effects. Packages should be followed carefully so that the recommended dosage is not exceeded. A doctor or pharmacist should be consulted about any concerns.

Regional anesthetics

Serious and possibly life-threatening side effects may occur when injectable or inhaled anesthetics are given to people who use street drugs. Doctors and nurses should inform patients about the dangers of mixing anesthetics with cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturates , phencyclidine (PCP, or angel dust), heroin, or other street drugs. Some anesthetic drugs may interact with other medicines. When this happens, the effects of one or both of the drugs may change, or the risk of side effects may be greater. In select cases, a urinalysis can help identify drug use.

Patients who have a personal or family history of malignant hyperthermia after receiving a general anesthetic must also be cautious when receiving regional or local anesthetics. Malignant hyperthermia is a serious reaction that involves a fast or irregular heartbeat, high fever, breathing problems, and muscle spasms. All patients should be asked if they are aware of such a risk in their family before receiving any kind of anesthetic.

Although problems are rare, some side effects may occur when regional anesthetics are used during labor and delivery. Anesthetics can prolong labor and increase the risk of requiring a cesarean section . Doctors should discuss the risks and benefits associated with epidural or spinal anesthesia with pregnant patients.

Regional anesthetics should be used only by an experienced anesthesiologist in a properly equipped environment with suitable resuscitative equipment. Although these anesthetics are generally safe when properly selected and administered, severe adverse reactions are still possible. If inadvertent subarachnoid injection occurs, the patient is likely to require resuscitation with oxygen and drug therapy. Careful positioning of the patient is essential to prevent leaking of cerebrospinal fluid.

Patients should not drive or operate machinery immediately following a procedure involving regional anesthesia because numbness or weakness may cause impairment. Doctors and nurses should also warn patients who have had local anesthesia, especially when combined with drugs to make patients sleep or to reduce pain, about operating any type of machinery.

Injectable local anesthetics

Until the anesthetic wears off, patients should be careful not to inadvertently injure the numbed area. If the anesthetic was used in the mouth, patients should not eat or chew gum until feeling returns.

Topical anesthetics

Unless advised by a doctor, topical anesthetics should not be used on or near any part of the body with large sores, broken or scraped skin, severe injury, or infection. They should also not be used on large areas of skin. Some topical anesthetics contain alcohol and should not be used near an open flame or while smoking.

Patients should be careful not to get topical anesthetics in the eyes, nose, or mouth. If a spray-type anesthetic is to be used on the face, it can be applied with a cotton swab or sterile gauze pad. After using a topical anesthetic on a child, the caregiver should make sure the child does not get the medicine in his or her mouth or eyes.

Topical anesthetics are intended for the temporary relief of pain and itching. They should not be used for more than a few days at a time. A doctor should be consulted if:

Dental anesthetics

Dental anesthetics should not be used if certain kinds of infections are present. Package directions should be checked or a dentist, pharmacist, or doctor should be consulted if there is any uncertainty. Dental anesthetics should be used only for temporary pain relief. Consult the dentist if problems such as toothache, mouth sores, or pain from dentures or braces continue or if signs of general illness such as fever, rash, or vomiting develop.

Patients should not eat or chew gum while the mouth is numb from a dental anesthetic to avoid accidentally biting the tongue or the inside of the mouth. In addition, nothing should be eaten or drunk for one hour after applying a dental anesthetic to the back of the mouth or throat, because the medicine may interfere with swallowing and may cause choking. If normal feeling does not return to the mouth within a few hours after receiving a dental anesthetic or if it is difficult to open the mouth, the dentist should be consulted.

Ophthalmic anesthetics

When anesthetics are used in the eye, it is important not to rub or wipe the eye until the effect of the anesthetic has worn off and feeling has returned. Rubbing the eye while it is numb could cause injury.


Medical procedures and situations that regularly make use of local or regional anesthesia include the following:

Surgery involving the chest or abdomen is usually performed under general anesthesia. Laparoscopy and hernia repair, however, may be performed under local or regional anesthesia.

Local and regional anesthesia have many advantages over general anesthesia. Most importantly, the risk of unusual and sometimes fatal reactions to general anesthesia is lessened. More minor, but significant, risks of general anesthesia include longer recovery time and the psychological discomfort of losing consciousness.

Regional anesthesia typically affects a larger area than local anesthesia. As a result, regional anesthesia is typically used for more involved or complicated procedures. The duration of action of an anesthetic depends on the type and amount of anesthetic administered.

Regional anesthetics are injected. Local anesthesia involves the injection into the skin or application to the skin surface of an anesthetic directly where pain will occur. Local anesthesia can be divided into four groups: injectable, topical, dental (non-injectable), and regional blockade injection.

Local and regional anesthesia work by altering the flow of sodium molecules into nerve cells (neurons) through the cell membrane. The exact mechanism is not understood, since the drug apparently does not bind to any receptor on the cell surface and does not seem to affect the release of chemicals that transmit nerve impulses (neurotransmitters) from the nerve cells. Experts believe, however, that when the sodium molecules do not get into the neurons, nerve impulses are not generated and pain impulses are not transmitted to the brain.

Regional anesthesia

Types of regional anesthesia include:

Local and regional anesthetics may be administered with other drugs to enhance their action. Examples include vasoconstrictors such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to decrease bleeding, or sodium bicarbonate to lower acidity, which may make a drug work faster. In addition, medications may be administered to help a patient remain calm and more comfortable or to make them sleepy.

Local anesthesia

INJECTABLE LOCAL ANESTHETICS. Injectable local anesthetics provide pain relief for some part of the body during surgery, dental procedures, or other medical procedures. They are given only by a trained health care professional and only in a doctor's office or a hospital. Some commonly used injectable local anesthetics are lidocaine (Xylocaine), bupivacaine (Marcaine), and mepivacaine (Carbocaine).

TOPICAL ANESTHETICS. Topical anesthetics such as benzocaine, lidocaine (in smaller quantities or doses), dibucaine, and tetracaine relieve pain and itching by blocking the sensory nerve endings in the skin. They are ingredients in a variety of nonprescription products that are applied to the skin to relieve the discomfort of sunburn, insect bites or stings, poison ivy, and minor cuts, scratches, and burns. These products are sold as creams, ointments, sprays, lotions, and gels.

Topical dental anesthetics are intended for pain relief in the mouth or throat. They may be used to relieve throat pain, teething pain, painful canker sores, toothaches, or discomfort from dentures, braces, or bridgework. Some dental anesthetics are available only with a doctor's prescription. Others may be purchased over the counter, including products such as Num-Zit, Orajel, Chloraseptic lozenges, and Xylocaine.

Ophthalmic anesthetics are designed for use in the eye. Lidocaine and tetracaine are used to numb the eye before certain eye examinations. Eye doctors may also use these medicines before measuring eye pressure or removing stitches or foreign objects from the eye. These drugs are to be given only by a trained health care professional.

The recommended dosage of a topical anesthetic depends on the type of local anesthetic and the purpose for which it is being used. When using a nonprescription local anesthetic, patients are advised to follow the directions on the package. Questions concerning how to use a product should be referred to a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist.


Most patients can return home immediately after a local anesthetic, but some patients might require limited observation. The degree of aftercare needed depends on where the anesthetic was given, how much was given, and other individual circumstances. Patients who have had their eyes numbed should wear a patch after surgery or treatment until full feeling in the eye area has returned. If the throat was anesthetized, the patient cannot drink until the gag reflex returns. If a major extremity was anesthetized, the patient may have to wait until function returns before being discharged. Some local anesthetics can cause cardiac arrhythmias and therefore require monitoring for a time with an EKG. Patients who have had regional anesthesia or larger amounts of local anesthesia usually recover in a post-anesthesia care unit before being discharged. There, medical personnel watch for immediate postoperative problems. These patients need to be driven home after discharge.


Side effects of regional or local anesthetics vary depending on the type of anesthetic used and the way it is administered. Any unusual symptoms following the use of an anesthetic requires the immediate attention of a doctor.

Paralysis after a regional anesthetic such as an epidural, spinal, or ganglionic blockade is extremely rare, but can occur. Paralysis reportedly occurs even less frequently than deaths due to general anesthesia.

There is also a small risk of developing a severe headache called a spinal headache following a spinal or epidural block. This headache is severe when the patient is upright, even when only elevated 30°, and is hardly felt when the patient lies down. It is treated by increasing fluids to help clear the anesthetic and enhance the flow of spinal fluid.

Finally, blood clots or abscess can form at the site where an anesthetic is injected. Although they can usually be treated, antibiotic resistance is becoming increasingly common. Such infections must be regarded as potentially dangerous, particularly if they develop at the site of a spinal injection.

A physician should be notified immediately if any of the following occur:

Normal results

Local and regional anesthetics help to make many conditions and procedures more comfortable and tolerable for patients.



Nettina, Sandra. Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice, 7th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2001, pp. 115-117.


American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants. PO Box 81362, Wellesley, MA 02481-0004. (800) 757-5858. .

American Society of Anesthesiologists. 520 N. Northwest Highway, Park Ridge, IL 60068-2573. (847) 825-5586. .


Interview with Harvey Plosker, MD. The Pain Center. 501 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431.

Lisette Hilton Sam Uretsky, PharmD

User Contributions:

this is one of best decription ever published here and i,ll prefer every one to be member of your service?
What are the advantage of giving spinal anesthesia to a 85 y/o woman with a hip fracture and COPD?
Thank you
Could anyone tell me step by step setup in the dental unit before giving a local anesthetic? Like preparing the operatory. were doing a literacy project in my pharmocolgy class and have to present it to the class. i have the steps from the book but i feel its not enough. i need help lol also for my intro do dentistry class i have the same project except its an essay (APA)on professionalism in the dental unit on the do's and donts while with a patient. What we shouldnt talk about what is appropriate to talk about etc. Please can anyone help, im not getting a lot of feed back on some web sites or if u could just give me a good site where i could find the answers im looking for i would appreciate it grandly. thank u for at least reading it lol
I find your site very informative
Interesting reading. I spend a lot of time on your site
i think i am having a bad reaction to local anesthetic given at the end of my middle finger i had a mucas cyst doctor gave shot directly into it and very fast didnt wait one minute cut it open pushed on it only got blood and i think from looks of it killed tissue on top of my finger hurt worse after local and after 1 week large bubble on finger with brown and purple edge have you heard of this docs are saying nothing thanks can send pics
I had anal pain thats why doctor give me lignox 2% there is any side effects for me when i apply at anal side.
before that i have anal fissur plz guide me about now this is work or any side effect plz
I've had 20 or more dental treatments in my life under local anaesthesia.

When the procedure is over and there is no longer any numbness I always feel quite ok and drive home happily. But then, about three hours later, I get terribly tired and have to stay in bed for one or two days. This has happened every time so far. Any explanation?

Thanks and regards from Cape Town

tiffany malone
How long after a child is given local anethetic injections should the dentist wait before extracting teeth\
Roger Atterton
Recently had an operation to straighten a finger affected by Duypretons Contracture. I chose a regional anaesthetic block and it may be coincidence but double vision followed and has been with me since.I have been given A stick on prism was fitted to my glasses at the eye clinic in my local hospital and this corrects the double vision but up to now the cause remains a mystery. An MRI scan is being arranged for me but if this fails to reveal the cause I will be back assuming the regional anaesthetic ha something to do with the cause.
Be interested if any one else has come across this?
Roger Atterton
MRI scans (eyes and brain) revealed no abnormalities then, after a period of 6 weeks, my vision began to return to normal. As a back up I have been prescribed a weaker stick on prism for my left eye in case I need it whilst driving, but so far have not needed it. The problem was diagnosed as 6th nerve palsy. Although the medics have said a connection with the regional anaesthetics is unlikely the anaesthetist did not rule it out entirely. I am convinced the anaesthetic was the cause and would have opted for a general anaesthetic rather than regional had the risk of prolonged double vision been explained to me.
Roger Atterton
Vision has been back to normal for 3 weeks. Regional anaesthetic was administered 12 December 2014. Hospital assures me the anaesthetic could not have caused the double vision, but it does it could have been caused by the stress of being awake during the procedure. I find this hard to believe but who am I to argue with the experts. I'm just thankful my normal vision is back. 6 weeks of double vision was a scary experience and from a personal point of view I remain convinced the regional anaesthetic caused it. The hospital staff were certainly rattled at the time.
Roger - I'm a 4th year optometry student and I'm doing some LIGHT research into anesthesia and double vision. From what I understand, blurred and double vision are an uncommon side effect that can occur after regional OR general anesthesia. 6 weeks, as in your case, is the longest I've heard of the after effect. I'm very glad to hear yours finally resolved.
A few years ago I woke up from having my wisdom teeth pulled and was seeing double for about an hour. I was a little freaked out, and the surgeons seemed very surprised at the effect. I'm not sure why the medical professionals are so shocked by this.
Hi there, just had a biking accident and had stitches placed on my face using lidocaine. It has been 7 days since the surgery but I still feeling numbness near the injection site, where he used 4 injections. Is this normal?
I had a tendon repaired in my hand yesterday under local anaesthetic. 6 hours later I suddenly became very dizzy, began vomiting, sweating and was white as a sheet. I had my husband here thankfully and he helped me into bed. I feel fine today. Was this an allergic reaction?

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