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Pain is a feeling that we are all afraid of, but thanks to the work of doctors, we don´t have to worry about it anymore. The introduction of anesthetics into the medical world has made surgical treatments not only pain free but also safer.

Physical pain is certainly an unpleasant feeling to deal with and scientists and doctors have always looked for alternatives to reduce it in order for them to be able to carry out medical procedures than can go from a tooth extraction, which is actually not as simple as it may sound, to an open heart surgery. In the past, pain during surgical procedures was something that could not be avoided and patients had to put on with excruciating pain  but the discovery of inhaled anesthetics came to revolutionize the whole concept around pain and consciousness.

A bit of history

In 1846, in the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the first surgical procedure using ether to anesthetize a patient was performed. Although this type of sedative had already been used before, this was the first publicized attempt of using ether as an anesthetic agent.

After ether, chloroform was also introduced as a general anesthetic due to its effectiveness, even though it had more side effects that its predecesor.

Then, in 1877 the concept of local anesthesia began with the use of cocaine as a sedative, event that promoted the search for less invasive and more effective procedures to reduce or avoid pain.

Following cocaine, local infiltration, nerve blocks and spinal and epidural anesthesia made it possible to perform medical procedures without driving the patients into a complete sedated state and of course, allowing doctors a better control of the whole process.

Types of anesthesia

There are three types of anesthesia, depending on how they are administered and the region that is intended to be sedated.

Local anesthesia is used to stop the sense of pain in a small region of the body. For example, a local anesthetic, which can be in the form of a spray, a liquid that is injected or a cream or gel, can be used to numb the area of a wound, in order for the doctor to be able to clean it and stitch it. When you are under local anesthesia, you remain conscious since only a specific area is sedated and the amount of anesthesia used is not enough to reach your brain.

Local anesthetics only affect the nerves that process pain and that are present in the region where the anesthesia is applied.
These nerves are blocked and cannot send signals all up to your brain in order for it to codify pain signals and send the response back, which is the actual feeling of pain.

There are several local anesthetics, including lidocaine and novocaine. Sound familiar? They are very similar to cocaine, but are not as strong in terms of causing addiction. The effect of local anesthesia lasts for a few hours and pain can be felt after the effect wears out. 

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