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What Are the Different Types of Eye Anesthesia?

Anatomy of the human eye.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Eye anesthesia can be local, regional, or general, depending on the procedure and the specifics of the patient's case. During the development of a surgical plan, the surgeon, patient, and anesthesiologist will discuss the anesthesia options and decide on the best fit for the patient and the case. In some cases, there may not be any options; it may be necessary, for example, to conduct an ophthalmological surgery on a patient under general anesthesia.

Local anesthesia, where a topical anesthetic is applied to the eye to numb it, is commonly used for minor procedures. The anesthetic will be introduced to the eye and sensitivity will be tested before starting surgery. To keep the patient more comfortable during the surgery, a sedative may be offered with local eye anesthesia. This will reduce anxiety and can help the patient hold the head still during the procedure.

Another option is regional anesthesia, sometimes called an eye block. In regional anesthesia, numbing agents are injected into specific nerves around the eye. Eye blocks are also usually paired with sedation. They are used in procedures where it is important that the eye be perfectly still. Recovery time after the anesthesia will be slightly longer and the risks are marginally higher, as there is a possibility of nerve damage and other problems.

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In general eye anesthesia, the patient is fully anesthetized and unconscious during surgery. General anesthesia can be used for eye surgery if there is a concern about the patient's level of comprehension or distress. Children, for example, may not tolerate local or regional anesthesia, necessitating a general anesthetic. Likewise, people with neurological disorders that impair comprehension and understanding might need eye surgery, but be unable to understand directives from the surgeon, making a general anesthetic a better choice.

The goal of the anesthesia is to prevent the patient from experiencing pain, and it will be followed with pain management after surgery to address post surgical pain. An anesthesiologist will screen the patient for risks in the process of selecting an anesthetic method. A detailed plan for administering and maintaining eye anesthesia is developed in association with the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist will monitor the patient through the surgery for signs of distress, pain, and other complications.

Eye anesthesia is generally safe for patients, especially when administered by a very experienced anesthesiologist. Patients with certain medical conditions can be at increased risk of surgical complications and should discuss those risks with their surgeons and anesthesiologists when making decisions about surgical procedures.

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