The stress parents face when their young child is forced to go through a surgical operation cannot be underestimated. Even the most mundane procedure carries risks, and parents will necessarily worry until their child comes out of the operation safely.
But there’s one concern that parents may or may not have that the Food and Drug Administration wants to get to the bottom of: anesthetic. The jury is still out on whether providing anesthesia to children under the age of four could be harmful to their continued development. While some studies have pointed toward a potential connection between anesthetic and certain behavioral and learning issues, other research has been inconclusive at best.
The FDA has released a new report that looks at their efforts to deduce whether or not anesthetic could be harmful to kids. They’re doing so through an initiative known as SmartTots. This endeavor, which was created in 2010, seeks to provide the necessary funding for studies which examine the effects of anesthetics on these youngest demographics. Assisting the FDA in these efforts is the International Anesthesia Research Society.
At the moment, it’s not thought wise that a necessary procedure be put off due to worries about the effect of anesthetic. As a cochair of the SmartTots steering committee explains, most surgical procedures in the under-four demographic are conducted out of necessity, and thus the near certain dangers of avoiding the operation are usually going to outweigh the possible dangers of needing anesthesia.
This idea is backed up by a statement issued by SmartTots toward the end of last year. Basically, the language explains that’s it’s unethical to not provide a child with anesthetic during a surgical operation. Not only would the child face extreme pain in the operation, but there’s simply not enough evidence at this time to confirm the potentially deleterious effects of anesthesia. The statement has the backing of the American Academy of Pediatrics and both American and European Anesthesiology organizations.
The research efforts that have thus far taken place are problematic in that they don’t involve humans. One study involved giving monkeys ketamine, a type of anesthesia, when they were young. Basic matching exercises took longer to learn among these monkeys, and retention also appeared to suffer after the activity was seemingly mastered.
At the moment, the University of Iowa and Columbia University are researching what effect anesthesia might have on infants. That study, which was made possible thanks to the funding efforts of SmartTots, has checks in place in the form of an Institutional Review Board so that the children aren’t unnecessarily endangered.