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Health Matters

Why is My Child So Agitated After Anaesthetic?

March 1st, 2017

By Susan Richards

If your child is about to undergo a procedure that involves general anesthesia (medication used to cause temporary sleep to prevent pain), it is important to understand that your child may experience some possible side effects. A side effect that is sometimes seen in young children is called Emergence Agitation. This condition is common, there are no long-lasting effects on the child, and the child will return to normal on their own. However, this condition can be alarming and it is important to have an understanding, before surgery, of what Emergence Agitation is, how long it may last, who is at risk and tips for what parents can do.

What is it?

  •    Emergence Agitation is when a child awakes from anesthesia and suddenly enters a state of excitation in which they cannot be comforted by usual parenting methods, such as cuddling, rocking, or soothing tone of voice
  •    The child may be: irritable, uncooperative, seemingly confused, difficult to comfort, moaning, kicking, or thrashing
  • It is also possible that the child is confused about where they are, or do not recognize familiar objects or people (such as family members, or favourite toys)

How long will it last?

  •    This condition usually occurs within the first 30 minutes of recovery, and can last anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes, and in some cases longer than others.

Who is at risk?

  •    Children under the age of 6 are at particular risk, but it can be experienced by children of all ages
  •    Children that are undergoing procedures which involve the head, particularly ear, nose, throat or dental procedures
  •    Children who are very nervous before they go into surgery
  •    Children who wake up quickly after the surgery is over

What can you do?

When the child is very anxious before surgery, it is more likely that side effects will happen. It is common for children to be scared of surgery because of the unknown or because of past experiences. These tips may help ease your child’s anxiety before surgery:

  •    Prepare yourself first – children are more likely to be anxious if you are anxious. If you are calm and relaxed, this will help your child have less anxiety. In order to prepare yourself take time to be educated about the surgery and possible side effects so you are able to prepare your child
  •    Educate your child – this will largely depend on the age of your child. An older child may benefit from more information, where a younger child may benefit more from simple, concrete explanations
  •    Be honest – it is natural to want to protect your child, however, it is important not to lie or make promises you can’t keep. It is okay to tell your child you don’t know the answer, but you will ask the doctor or nurse

For more info on strategies to prepare your child for surgery please visit:

For more info on Emergence Agitation please visit:

Acknowledgement: Danielle Mercier 4th year MacEwan University Nurse student 2016

Susan Richards is a Pediatric NP at Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Tags: advice, health

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