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Redheads and anaesthesia: fact or myth?

Life as a ginger child will help you grow up with a thicker skin, I think we can all agree on that. But I was still surprised to hear that it also makes you less sensitive to anaesthesia.

My Dad used to tell us of his trip to the dentist that resulted in excruciating pain; he felt every second of his tooth extraction, despite more than one injection, and then walked around with half his face numb an hour later.

It’s only now that it has been explained to me that I understand why those with red hair may react differently to anaesthesia.

Some people say that gingers are more likely to wake up sooner after surgery, or even during the procedure itself. *screams*

And as much as I’d like to believe this is a myth, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to support this notion. I work in a hospital, and there are quite a few tales kicking around of nurses taking extra measures to ensure that red-haired patients are completely ‘under’, but maybe that’s superstition.

Either way, it has made me wonder if there is actual truth behind this rather than superstition getting the better of us!

Let’s start with the scientific facts. People with red hair have one of the -1 receptor genes; you know, the one that dictates the pigment of the skin.

And in July 2012 a study was published in the ‘Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Journal’, called ‘The effect of hair colour on anaesthetic requirements and recovery time after surgery’. The study by Australian researchers looked at 468 healthy adult patients having elective surgery to see if there was a link between their hair colour and reaction to the anaesthetic injection. Also taken into consideration was the duration of surgery, gender, and age, then comparing recovery times, pain scores and recovery quality.

And, are you ready for this? You may or not may not be surprised to know, that overall, researchers found there was no significant difference in the results between patients with red hair and those with any other hair colour.

There have also been studies in the past that came to a different conclusion, but it appears many of these were done on much smaller test groups, of healthy rather than ill patients, which could limit their findings. Other studies seem to be underway as I type, but it seems for now our anaesthesia-resistance super powers have been scientifically declared a myth.

What do you believe? Let us know if you feel pain more or less!


By Leanne

Ginger Parrot

Ginger Parrot is ready and raring to report on all things nice and gingerful, and provides an online store too, offering Ginger Parrot merchandise, clothing, hair products, gifts and more for the redhead and redhead lover community.


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