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Techniques & Technologies

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Local anaesthetics

Local anaesthetics block pain in regions of the body without affecting other functions or overall consciousness. Western local anaesthetics were first developed in 1877. They are used for medical examinations, minor surgical and dental procedures and are administered by creams, ointments, sprays, gels or liquid. They can also be injected or given in eye drops.

Cocaine was a popular local anaesthetic, particularly for eye surgery, and was first used in 1884. Unfortunately, many patients died from overdose and its use was abandoned until it could be synthesised in a pure form, which was achieved in 1891. Between 1891 and 1930 local anaesthetics such as Novocain were developed.

Spinal anaesthesia is used for surgery of the abdomen, lower back and legs. It was first used in 1885 when cocaine was used in the spines of six patients in the United States. Spinal or epidural anaesthesia can now be used for complex procedures such as hip replacement surgery. A fine needle is inserted between two vertebrae in the lumbar (lower part) of the spine and the anaesthetic flows into the fluid of the spinal cord. Spinal anaesthetic is used for patients who have difficulty with general anaesthetic, such as those with heart conditions.


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External links:


S J Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How Anaesthetics Changed the World (Oxford: OUP, 2008)