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Sevoflurane is an inhalational anesthetic with characteristics suited for use in children. To determine whether the induction, recovery, and safety characteristics of sevoflurane differ from those of halothane, the following open-labeled, multicenter, randomized, controlled, phase III study in children undergoing ambulatory surgery was designed.Three hundred seventy-five children, ASA physical status 1 or 2, were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to receive either sevoflurane or halothane, both in 60% N2 O and 40% O2. Anesthesia was induced using a mask with an Ayre's t piece or Bain circuit in four of the centers and a mask with a circle circuit in the fifth center. Maximum inspired concentrations during induction of anesthesia were 7% sevoflurane and 4.3% halothane. Anesthesia was maintained by spontaneous ventilation, without tracheal intubation. End-tidal concentrations of both inhalational anesthetics were adjusted to 1.0 MAC for at least 10 min before the end of surgery. Induction and recovery characteristics and all side effects were recorded. The plasma concentration of inorganic fluoride was measured at induction of and 1 h after anesthesia.During induction of anesthesia, the time to loss of the eyelash reflex with sevoflurane was 0.3 min faster than with halothane (P < 0.001). The incidence of airway reflex responses was similar, albeit infrequent with both anesthetics. The total MAC *symbol* h exposure to sevoflurane was 11% less than the exposure to halothane (P < 0.013), although the end-tidal MAC multiple during the final 10 min of anesthesia was similar for both groups. Early recovery as evidenced by the time to response to commands after sevoflurane was 33% more rapid than it was after halothane (P < 0.001), although the time to discharge from hospital was similar for both anesthetics. The mean (+/-SD) plasma concentration of inorganic fluoride 1 h after discontinuation of sevoflurane was 10.3+/-3.5 micro Meter. The overall incidence of adverse events attributable to sevoflurane was similar to that of halothane, although the incidence of agitation attributable to sevoflurane was almost threefold greater than that attributable to halothane (P < 0.004).Sevoflurane compared favorably with halothane. Early recovery after sevoflurane was predictably more rapid than after halothane, although this was not reflected in a more rapid discharge from the hospital. The incidence of adverse events was similar for both anesthetics. Clinically, the induction, recovery, and safety characteristics of sevoflurane and halothane are similar. Sevoflurane is a suitable alternative to halothane for use in children undergoing minor ambulatory surgery.