Local doctors speak out against latest pediatric study on effects of anesthesia on children

September 5, 2012 10:03:54 AM PDT
A new study says anesthesia poses a risk to the brain in babies and toddlers under the age of 3. The study is published in a major medical journal, but some Houston doctors disagree.

When Autumn needed surgery for needed ear tubes, her parents were concerned.

"It was a necessary procedure for her. We had done four rounds of antibiotics and she still had fluid in her ears," her mother, Amanda Walker said.

After doing their homework, they decided their one-year-old would have the surgery.

"Since she's had the surgery, we've seen a drastic change in her ability to understand, her ability to speak verbally," her father, Andrew Walker said.

But some children weren't so lucky. An Australian study in the Journal of Pediatrics found children under 3 who were exposed to anesthesia were twice as likely to have developmental problems speaking and listening.

"We do not agree with the study and the reason is it looks back at a very large group of children, some of whom got old anesthetics," said Dr. Nancy Glass, an anesthesiologist at Texas Children's Hospital.

Dr. Glass also is incoming president of the National Society for Pediatric Anesthesia.

"We use very short-acting anesthetics now, the children go to sleep quickly, they wake up quickly. We use the absolute minimum that each child needs. By the same token we want them to be comfortable and safe," she said.

This study had another problem; Dr. Glass says the researchers relied on parent surveys and didn't look at medical records and didn't know how long the children were exposed to anesthesia.

For now, she believes anesthesia is as safe as they can make it.

"We do not want parents to put off having surgery that their children need, that will help them," Dr. Glass said.

But it's a complicated question and she says researchers will continue to look at the safety of anesthesia on a young child's brain.

Dr. Glass says, as studies continue, they're likely to develop anesthesia just for young babies, and others for older children. But that, she says, is still a long way off.


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