Pain Treatment Local Anesthetics

Local anesthesia is an injection of a nerve-numbing, pain-killing substance that doctors administer to a particular area of the body. Unlike general anesthesia, which numbs the entire body and brain, local anesthesia allows the patient to stay conscious and alert while a procedure is performed.

Because local anesthesia can numb a specific area without affecting the rest of the body, it not only lowers the risk of side effects, but it also allows the patient to recover more quickly from the effects of the anesthesia.

Local anesthesia blocks nerve impulses by decreasing the amount of sodium ions that permeate the nerve membranes. When performing a procedure that requires anesthesia, doctors can choose between a variety of local anesthetics that all have different duration periods, toxicity levels and absorption rates. The type of anesthetic your doctor chooses will depend on the procedure you are getting, as well as your current state of health.

Types of Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia comes in several different forms, each of which are used to treat different, but specific, health issues. These types of local anesthesia are:

  • Dental Anesthetics: These are administered during dental treatments or to relieve pain in the mouth or throat. While some of these anesthetics are available by prescription, others are available over the counter.
  • Injectable Anesthetics: Given by injection during medical procedures, injectable anesthetics can only be administered by a trained professional.
  • Ophthalmic Anesthetics: These are anesthetics for eye procedures and can only be administered by a trained professional.
  • Topical Anesthetics: Absorbed through the skin, topical anesthetics are typically over-the-counter ointments or creams.

Uses of Local Anesthetics

With so many different types of anesthetics available, there are a number of medical uses for them. For example, local anesthetics are used to numb an area of the body while a doctor operates or performs a procedure on a specific part of the body. Similarly, local anesthetics may be used outside of the operating room to treat and reduce chronic pain. Doctors also use local anesthetics for:

  • arm, hand, leg or foot surgery
  • biopsies
  • eye surgery
  • insect bites, poison ivy
  • mouth sores such as cold sores or canker sores
  • small scratches and cuts
  • sore throat
  • sunburn
  • urinary tract surgery.

Advantages of Local Anesthetics

Using local anesthetics when possible presents a number of advantages to the patient. Patients can:

  • avoid losing consciousness as they would if they and their doctors opted for general anesthetics
  • avoid unpleasant side effects of general anesthesia, including respiratory problems, hypertension and an increase in heart rate
  • receive long-lasting pain relief
  • reduce blood loss.

As a result, many doctors opt for local anesthetic whenever possible. For those who can’t handle the psychological effects of being awake during a surgery, doctors may administer other medications to relieve anxiety. Alternately, they may choose the general anesthetic instead.

Side Effects of Local Anesthesia

Like any type of drug, local anesthetics do come with their own associated side effects. In general, however, side effects are rare and usually minimal. Some of the possible side effects that can occur with local anesthetics include:

  • anxiety or nervousness
  • blurred vision
  • breathing problems
  • confusion
  • convulsions
  • drowsiness or dizziness
  • feeling cold, hot or numb
  • hives or swelling
  • severe headache
  • slow or irregular heartbeat.

People who have had a reaction to local anesthetics in the past should consult their doctors before using them again. In addition, some people are more sensitive to local anesthetics than others, increasing their risk of suffering from possible side effects. This is often true for older people and children. Consequently, these patients should talk to their doctor about their best possible options.

Anyone who thinks they may be experiencing a side effect of a local anesthetic should seek immediate medical attention to prevent serious health complications.


Heitmiller, Eugenie, M.D. (2007). Local Anesthesia. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from the How Stuff Works Web site:

Ross-Flanagan, Nancy (2006). Anesthesia, local. Retrieved August 30, 2007 from Health A to Z Web site: