Recent concerns regarding possible long-term effects of early anesthesia exposure on neurodevelopment in children have provided an impetus to explore alternative anesthetic techniques using potentially neuroprotective agents. Dexmedetomidine has not been implicated in anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity and has been shown to be neuroprotective in preclinical studies. We describe a case series of 50 neonates and infants who received dexmedetomidine sedation with caudal anesthesia instead of general endotracheal anesthesia for inguinal hernia surgery.
We conducted a retrospective chart review on all neonates and infants who underwent inguinal hernia surgery with dexemetomidine sedation and caudal anesthesia in our institution. We started exploring this technique since October 2011 and established a protocol of administering dexmedetomidine 2 mcg·kg(-1) over 10 min, followed by 1 mcg·kg(-1) over the next 10 min. This led to satisfactory conditions for caudal placement in 20 min, with minimal need for airway intervention during surgery.
The median gestational age of the infants was 31.4 (28.7, 36.0) weeks and median postconceptual age was 39.7 weeks (IQR 37.8, 45.7) at time of surgery. Of patients, 86% had surgery successfully completed under this technique alone. Seven patients required sevoflurane or nitrous oxide due to failed caudal block (n = 1) or difficult or prolonged surgery (n = 6). After establishing the sedation protocol and excluding patients with large or complicated hernias, the success rate was 96%. Transient intra-operative apnea or hypoventilation occurred in five patients and postoperative apnea in two patients. All respiratory events were easily reversed and no patient developed significant bradycardia or required intubation.
Dexmedetomidine sedation with caudal anesthesia is a feasible alternative to spinal or general anesthesia in selected infants undergoing uncomplicated hernia surgery. It avoids the need for endotracheal intubation and may be potentially beneficial in avoiding the unknown effects of general anesthesia on neurodevelopment.