To determine the relevance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning regarding general anesthesia (GA) in children under 3 years of age for procedures lasting longer than 3 h, by surgical specialty and for otolaryngology specifically.


A one-year retrospective review was conducted at a tertiary-care medical center for all children younger than 3 years undergoing surgical procedures with durations greater than 3 h. De-identified data related to age, surgical service, procedure types, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) physical status classification, and general anesthesia time were collected and examined.


During 2017, 430 of 11,757 patients (3.7%) met the age and duration of anesthesia criteria. Procedures performed by the cardiothoracic surgery service were mostly likely to result in duration of surgery greater than 3 h (46.6%), followed by neurosurgery (12.9%), cardiology (9.3%), plastic surgery (7.1%), general surgery (6.6%), and urology (5.1%). Less than 2% of patients undergoing ophthalmology (1.9%), orthopedic surgery (1.7%), and otolaryngology (0.5%) procedures required anesthesia greater than 3 h.


Less than 4% of patients younger than 3 years undergoing surgery required general anesthesia for longer than 3 h. The theoretical risks of general anesthesia per the FDA warning are discussed and must be balanced against the known functional and neurodevelopmental consequences of not performing critical and time-sensitive surgery on children in this age group. A strategy for addressing parental and provider concerns is discussed.

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