An Australian study, published in Pediatrics, suggests than even one exposure to anesthesia could impact a child’s learning and later development, particularly involving language. Researchers followed just under 2,900 children from pregnancy through middle childhood and noted that those who had even just one surgery before the age of 3, were twice as likely to demonstrate a language disability by the age of 10 years old.
Although no correlation was found between anesthesia and behavioral concerns, children who had anesthesia were 73% more likely to demonstrate challenges with abstract reasoning skills. Other studies suggested similar findings, but again it is important to note that a causal relation has not been proven at this point.
For example, one of the most common surgeries for young children would involve inserting tubes for frequent ear infections. Frequent ear infections, and difficulty hearing, could also impact a child’s language and communication development. At this point, recommendations include continuing to provide children with medically necessary surgery and anesthesia, until more evidence can be gathered. Additionally, the medication most of the children in this study were exposed to, is no longer used and medical records of other medications were not available to researchers.
SmartTots is an organization that has been founded to look at safety for children under the age of 4, who require exposure to anesthesia. SmartTots provides funding and information on safety when considering surgery for young children, and may be a helpful resource for parents and professionals.