I was wondering what do you call the medicines that are used to:

  1. make you sleep through the surgical operation.
  2. make you numb (without making you sleep,) during an operation.

I know "anesthetic medicines" for #1 and "numbness medicines" for #2. But the problem is that many dictionaries have mentioned that "anesthetize" means:

  • To give someone an anaesthetic so they do not 'feel pain' during a medical operation."

There is something missing here for me, but I'm not quite confident what that is! I have an intuition that "anesthetic medicines" actually, make you sleep and in this way prevent pain during a more serious process like a critical operation; in more routine operations like: "dentistry operations" where one does not need to get unconscious and just needs to get numb, dentists use "numbness medications".

I was wondering if you could let me know whether I have been right or wrong.


1 Answer 1


In both of your cases, you could call the medicine an anesthetic (or if you are using the British spelling, anaesthetic). We distinguish between the two kinds of anesthetics with an additional adjective. A general anesthetic makes a person unconscious, while a local anesthetic makes one part of their body numb.

The phrase "anesthetic medicines", while not technically incorrect, is not idiomatic; few people would say it that way. It is better to just say "anesthetics".

In your second case, you could also use the adjective numbing to describe the medication. For example, if the dentist uses a local anesthetic in your mouth, and that anesthetic takes the form of a gel that she rubs on your gums, you could call it a numbing gel. This is a less technical and less formal term than "anesthetic", and it is a very common usage, especially when you are talking about over-the-counter medications (medicine that you can buy without a doctor's permission). In fact, if you went to the store and bought a numbing cream to rub on some part of your body, it would sound odd to call it a "local anesthetic", even though it technically is.

  • Thank you very much @MJ713. Just could you possibly add to your excellent answer regarding "anesthetized" and "numb" too? I think both adjectives can be used in my second case, though I'm not quite sure.
    – A-friend
    Oct 10, 2019 at 4:52

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