Ouch! That hurts!
In a comprehensive scientific overview published in the August supplement of the journal Clinical Therapeutics, scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, the University of Western Ontario and Mount Sinai Hospital analyzed data from 71 studies involving 8,050 children to determine the best physical, psychological and pharmacologic strategies to minimize vaccine injection pain in children.
Vaccines are medications that protect against infectious diseases, and are usually given with a needle, which can be painful. Vaccine injections are often distressing for children, their families and even for participating health-care professionals. Experts have found that negative experiences with vaccine injections can lead to anxiety at future procedures and needle fears. People with needle fears may decline necessary procedures such as vaccinations and blood tests in an effort to avoid pain.
“Pain influences how people make choices in health care,” says lead author Dr. Anna Taddio, an Adjunct Scientist and Pharmacist at SickKids and an Associate Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. “It’s a problem to let kids suffer when they don’t have to.”
According to Taddio, the research team aims to empower parents to be informed about managing their child’s pain and encourages parents to discuss various strategies with their child’s health-care professional.
“If we can teach parents from the start to help manage their child’s pain, we can go a long way toward reducing the lifetime burden of pain,” she says, adding that if parents learn about pain management early (i.e. when their infant begins having vaccinations), this knowledge will help guide them through other painful medical procedures as the child grows up.
So what can parents and health-care professionals do to help reduce vaccine injection pain in children? Taddio’s recommended strategies include:
- You and your child:
- Stay calm and maintain a positive atmosphere; actions and words can influence the child’s reaction.
- Plan to take your child’s attention away from the procedure using distraction (i.e. use toys, slow down breathing by having the child blow bubbles, tell jokes).
- Plan to provide physical comfort (i.e. hug the child).
- Plan other pain-relieving interventions (i.e. breastfeeding or administration of sugar water, topical anaesthetics).
- Your child’s health-care professional:
- Let the doctor or nurse know what pain-management strategies you are planning for your child’s vaccine injections and try to enlist their support.
- Ask them to make vaccine injections less painful by administering intramuscular vaccines quickly without aspiration and administering the most painful vaccine last when more than one vaccine is given during the same visit.
To download a detailed list of specific pain-management strategies for childhood vaccinations, click here.
The research was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and SickKids Foundation.
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. As innovators in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care, research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. SickKids is committed to healthier children for a better world.