An anesthetic is a medicine that helps block pain. It may be used with medicine that will help a person relax, become sleepy or forgetful, and/or become unconscious for surgery.

Anesthesia specialists use these medicines and close monitoring to help keep people safe and comfortable during surgery and other medical procedures.

There are three main types:

  • Local anesthetics numb a small part of the body, such as the nose or mouth. They are given as a shot. Or they are applied topically.
  • Regional anesthetics numb a larger part of the body. They are given as a shot around major nerves or the spinal cord.
  • General anesthetics make a person unconscious. They are given as a gas or as a shot directly into the bloodstream (IV, through a vein).

Some topical anesthetics are over-the-counter medicines. These medicines can be used as home treatment for minor injuries.

Current as of: September 9, 2014

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & John M. Freedman, MD - Anesthesiology