What are the Different Types of Anesthetics?

A type of local anesthetic, an epidural can numb parts of the body from pain, such as during labor or surgery.
Some topical anesthetics are designed to be sprayed onto sore or injured areas.
Local anesthesia may be injected directly into the body using a surgical needle for fast-acting results.
Patients who receive general anesthesia during an operation are carefully monitored.
Inhalational anaesthesia involves the use of anesthetics that are directly inhaled by a patient.
General anesthesia is used to induce a state of unconsciousness.
Topical anesthetics may be applied before some dermatological procedures, including laser resurfacing.
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  • Written By: Angela Crout-Mitchell
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2015
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Various types of anesthetics are used by doctors and physicians to produce different effects in the body including loss of sensation, sleepiness, and a total sleep state. There are several types of anesthesia, including local anesthetic options, those introduced to the body through IVs or spinal injections, and anesthetics delivered through air masks. Physicians who specialize in anesthesia, along with the operating surgeon, will decide what type of medication is most effective and appropriate for the procedure to be done. The more serious the surgery, the more potent the anesthesia product will have to be for the patient's security and safety throughout the procedure. Every patient's medical history is taken before surgery to avoid any potential problems with drug allergies or intolerance.

There are a few different types of local anesthetics doctors may choose for their patients. For very minor procedures, it is not uncommon for doctors to apply a topical anesthetic in the case of burns or small cuts. Dentists often use topical ointments to numb the gums before injecting more potent anesthesia through a needle before procedures. Local anesthesia may also be injected directly into the body through a surgical needle for fast-acting results. This type of anesthetic treatment is often employed for low risk procedures while the patient is awake and alert.


Moderate to serious procedures and surgeries usually require stronger, longer lasting anesthetics called general anesthesia, and often delivered to the nervous system through IVs or administered directly to the spinal column. In IV applications, a liquid anesthesia product is administered through the IV line while medical personnel closely monitor the patient's oxygen levels, heart rate, and other vital signs during surgery. Tubes are placed in the patient's throat to protect it during the procedure after the person is sleeping. Anesthesia can also be delivered to the spinal column through the use of an epidural, spinal, or interscalene application. Spinal column anesthesia allows the patient to remain awake yet unable to feel any sensation below the medication insertion point for a specified amount of time.

Many people are familiar with the application of anesthetics to the body through air masks, and these usually feature a tube from the back of the throat to the lungs. Appropriate medication can be sent directly to the lungs for fast absorption into the blood stream. The tube is not installed until after the patient is asleep, and most people have no recollection of its presence. Airborne anesthesia patients are also closely monitored throughout the procedure to ensure proper dosing and that the patient's condition continues to be stable.


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