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Local Anaesthetics - Rightangled

What is Local Anaesthetics?


Local anaesthetics work by interfering with the transmission of pain signals from nerve endings to the brain. They achieve this by inhibiting the function of sodium channels in nerve cells, preventing the initiation and propagation of action potentials. This results in a reversible loss of sensation in the affected area, allowing medical professionals to perform procedures without causing discomfort to the patient.


The use of local anaesthetics is typically determined by a healthcare provider based on the nature of the medical procedure and the need for pain management. There is no specific diagnostic test to ascertain the requirement for a local anaesthetic. Instead, the decision is made by the healthcare professional, taking into consideration the patient's medical history, the type of procedure, and the potential discomfort it may cause.


Local anaesthetics come in various forms and can be administered in different ways, depending on the specific procedure and patient's needs. The common methods of application include:
1. Topical Anaesthetics
Topical anaesthetics are applied directly to the skin or mucous membranes. They are often used for minor procedures, such as skin biopsies, suturing wounds, or dental work. Examples include lidocaine creams and gels.
2. Infiltration Anaesthesia
Infiltration anaesthesia involves injecting the local anaesthetic directly into the tissue surrounding the target area. It is commonly used in minor surgical procedures, such as removing skin lesions or dental fillings.
3. Nerve Block
Nerve block anaesthesia involves injecting the anaesthetic near a cluster of nerves that serve a specific region of the body. This method is often used for procedures involving a larger area, such as joint or limb surgeries.
4. Spinal and Epidural Anaesthesia
These methods are used for more extensive procedures, like childbirth or lower abdominal surgery. Local anaesthetics are injected into the spinal canal (spinal anaesthesia) or the epidural space (epidural anaesthesia) to block sensations in the lower half of the body.


Preventing complications related to the use of local anaesthetics primarily involves careful administration and monitoring. Here are some preventive measures:
Patient Assessment: Prior to administering local anaesthetics, healthcare providers should conduct a thorough patient assessment to identify any allergies or medical conditions that might affect the choice of anaesthetic.
Proper Dosage: Administering the correct dosage is crucial to prevent overdose or underdosing, which can lead to inadequate pain relief or adverse effects.
Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of the patient's vital signs and response to the anaesthetic is essential to detect any adverse reactions promptly.
Informed Consent: Healthcare providers must ensure that patients understand the risks and benefits of local anaesthetics and provide informed consent before administration.
Sterile Technique: Maintaining a sterile environment during anaesthetic administration helps prevent infections and complications.
Documentation: Thorough and accurate documentation of the procedure, including the type and amount of anaesthetic used, is essential for patient safety and medico-legal purposes.

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What are local anesthetics and how do they work?

Local anesthetics are medications used to block pain sensation in a specific area of the body. They work by temporarily disrupting the transmission of nerve signals in the targeted region. This prevents the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain, effectively numbing the area and allowing medical procedures to be performed with minimal discomfort.

What are the common uses for local anesthetics?

Local anesthetics are commonly used in a variety of medical and dental procedures. They are often employed for minor surgeries, dental work, skin biopsies, sutures, and even in pain management techniques like epidurals. Local anesthetics are versatile and can be applied topically, through injections, or in the form of creams, gels, or sprays.

Are there any potential side effects or risks associated with local anesthetics?

While local anesthetics are generally safe when used appropriately, there can be some side effects and risks. These may include temporary numbness, tingling, or itching at the site of application. In rare cases, individuals may experience allergic reactions, nerve damage, or systemic toxicity if the anesthetic is inadvertently absorbed into the bloodstream. It's important for healthcare professionals to carefully assess each patient's needs and administer the appropriate dose to minimize such risks.

Can I use over-the-counter (OTC) topical anesthetics as a substitute for prescription local anesthetics?

OTC topical anesthetics are available, but they are typically less potent than prescription local anesthetics. They are suitable for minor discomfort relief, like sunburn or insect bites, but may not provide sufficient pain relief for medical procedures. It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider or dentist to determine the most appropriate local anesthetic for your specific needs. Using the wrong type of anesthetic or using it incorrectly can lead to inadequate pain relief or potential complications.

Medically reviewed & approved

This page was medically reviewed by Dr Sohaib Imtiaz (clinical lead) |

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