As anesthesia can be described as a loss of feeling or the inability to feel pain and an anesthetic is a method of pain prevention a local anesthesia can be described as the loss of feeling in a small area of the body as a method of pain prevention.
Candidates for local anesthesia are usually people who undergo mildly painful operations that do not require the person to be unconscious. This type of anesthesia is usually used for minor procedures such as having a tooth pulled or minor surgery for a hernia repair.
One of the most commonly used local anesthetics is lidocaine. Lidocaine can be administered as an injection or placed topically on mucous membranes. One common topical anesthetic used for anesthetizing the skin prior to painful procedures is known as eutectic mixture of local anesthetics (EMLA) cream which contains lidocaine and prilocaine another anesthetic. This white cream is placed on the skin and then covered with an occlusive dressing for approximately one hour to obtain a good numbing effect. In addition EMLA can be used to numb the skin prior to giving injections or pulling superficial splinters.
Local anesthesia works by injecting numbing medication into the skin or other surface at the site of the procedure. The injection is usually near the surface but may be deeper in some cases. The site of the procedure is first cleaned with an antibacterial cleanser and the medication is injected using a very small needle into the small or local area. The medication may cause a stinging or burning sensation at first but this discomfort lasts for just a few seconds.
It takes a few minutes for the local anesthetic to produce its full effect but when it has done so the person should be unable to feel pain in the treated area.
The numbing medication generally wears off within an hour of the procedure and as the procedures that use local numbing medication are usually minor operations a person may be able to go home soon after. If sedatives were used during the operation it is important that the patient be helped home as can impair coordination and reflexes for several hours. Driving home after local anesthesia with sedatives is definitely not recommended.
Local anesthesia requires no home care although a person may feel some discomfort at the site of the operation as the numbing medication wears off.
Local anesthesia is extremely safe and it is unlikely to cause any complications however allergic reactions are possible and may cause temporary breathing problems. In rare cases if the medication is accidentally injected into the bloodstream or too much is used seizures or arrhythmias may occur. These can be life threatening and need emergency treatment.