History of Anesthesia

The history of anesthesia is very old. Anesthesia was used even in the ancient societies of the oldest civilizations wherein opium extracts, alcohol, coca leaves and other plant products were used. Even regional anesthesia in the form of compression on the nerve trunks, application of cold or use of crude local anesthetics was done in the Egyptian and the Incus civilizations.

In the modern history of anesthesia, it dates back to 1st AD when Dioscorides used the term anesthesia to describe the narcotic effects of plant Mandragora.

The word anesthesia which means no senses was coined by Oliver Wendell Homes. Term ‘balanced anesthesia’ was coined by John Lundy and Ralph Waters. Concept of inhalational anesthesia was given by Henry Hill Hickman who used inhalational NO2 to perform surgery painlessly in animals. Use of nitrous oxide was done by Humphry Davy who used it on himself for toothache and called nitrous oxide as ‘laughing gas’.

Another important event in the history of anesthesia is the first use of Nitrous oxide. First clinical use of nitrous oxide was done in 1844 for dental extraction where Colton gave the anesthesia and Horace well acted as a patient but first public clinical demonstration of nitrous oxide was given by ‘Horace Wells’ for tooth extraction (1845) but unfortunately patient cried in pain. Horace Wells became very frustrated and chloroform addict and finally committed suicide by cutting his femoral artery.

But the turning point in the history of anesthesia is the demonstration of ether anesthesia.First successful demonstration of ether anesthesia was done by W.T Morton in Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Ether was prepared by Valeus Cordus in 1540 when it was known as ‘sweet oil of vitriol’. Hence, though the history of anesthesia dates backs to several centuries back, present practices are based on the rapid developments in the last six decades.

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