Chisom A. Agbim, MD, Pediatrics Resident, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, Palo Alto, CA
N. Ewen Wang, MD, Professor, Emergency Medicine, Associate Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Stanford University Medical School, Stanford, CA
John Cheng, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Associates, LLC, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Wellstar Health System, Atlanta, GA
- A child’s ability to express pain can be influenced by age, cognitive development, gender, cultural context, level of anxiety, stress, and fear, which is often exacerbated by the chaotic ED environment.
- To decrease environmental stressors, children should be placed in individual child-friendly rooms, away from the noise and chaos of the ED. Simple techniques, including distraction (bubbles, toys, books, and visual aids), deep breathing techniques, and guided imagery can be very effective with young children.
- In the pediatric population, children younger than 2 years of age receive disproportionately less analgesia in the ED than school-age children, despite having obviously painful conditions.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are an excellent choice for mild to moderate pain in the ED setting.
- Non-pharmacologic strategies are inexpensive, easy to use, and highly effective in a busy ED. Common physical strategies can include warm and cold compresses, pressure, vibration, massage, and immobilization.
- Fast-acting topical numbing sprays and solutions can offer quick and effective pain control for procedures involving needles.
- Children with acute moderate pain typically are treated with a low dose of a strong opioid such as morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, or fentanyl.
- Intranasal fentanyl has gained popularity when compared to IV opioids for treatment of moderate to severe pain for pediatric patients in the ED because of its fast onset and ease of administration
- Codeine has become widely unpopular because of its unpredictable effect and risk of respiratory depression and even death due to interpatient variation of its metabolism to morphine by the cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) enzyme system.
Pain management in the pediatric population has long been a focus of healthcare providers; nevertheless, gaps in providing adequate and timely pain management remain an area of concern in emergency departments (ED). This article will provide guidance for the recognition and successful management of pediatric pain in the ED setting. The authors first present definitions of pain and discuss the assessment of pain in a child, as well as common barriers to appropriate pediatric pain management in the ED. Then, the article will focus on the different aspects of pain and techniques of managing discomfort, including: anxiolysis, non-pharmacological strategies, topical medications, oral analgesics, parenteral medications, discharge medications, and misconceptions and facts about opioid analgesics. Pain control in conjunction with procedural sedation is beyond the scope of this article.
— Ann M. Dietrich, MD, FAAP, FACEP, Editor
Definition and Background
Pain is defined as an unpleasant somatic or visceral sensation associated with actual, potential, or perceived tissue damage.1 Pain is a complex and unique experience for all individuals. It can be affected by factors including one’s own anxiety or surrounding environment. Children suffer pain in the same way as adults; however, exposure to painful events in early childhood can have a direct effect on future neurobiological development. Studies have shown that early exposure to painful experiences and undertreated pain at crucial developmental periods can cause changes in the activity and structure of the central nervous system and cause long-term effects in a child’s perception of pain at later stages of childhood.2,3 In some instances, chronic pain originates from one or more acutely painful episodes early on that continues to resonate even throughout adulthood.2 The goal of pediatric pain management is to prevent avoidable pain and to eliminate pain in the most timely, efficient manner possible.
It has been well documented that pain is widely undertreated, especially in the pediatric population.4,5,6,7 In 2001, the U.S. Congress renewed its focus on the recognition and treatment of pain. With this came an emphasis on adequate and timely pain management. Shortly afterward, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations established standards for pain assessment and management in response to the public outrage about the widespread problem of the undertreatment of pain.8 This included a mandate that methods used to assess pain are consistent with a patient’s age, condition, and ability to understand. Although several advances have been made in improving pediatric pain management since the publication of these standards, several gaps still exist. Children continue to receive less analgesia in general EDs than adults, and fever is treated more promptly than pain in pediatric EDs.9,10 Even in the pediatric population, children younger than 2 years of age receive disproportionately less analgesia in the ED than school-age children, despite having obviously painful conditions.10
The barriers to identifying pain and delivering timely, appropriate, and safe analgesia for pediatric patients are multifactorial. Seventy percent of all patients presenting to the ED are in some pain and/or require a painful procedure.11 Pediatric and adolescent patients account for one-third of all patients seen in general EDs.11 Although pain assessment is required for all hospitals and all practicing professionals receive pain assessment training, there continue to be gaps in actual pain management. Common barriers to optimal pain management in general EDs include patient volume, staffing issues, failure to include non-pharmacologic strategies in the treatment of pain, generally inaccurate pain assessments, insufficient pain medications available at triage, and difficulty with timely reassessment of pain in a busy ED environment.12 Some barriers that are more common to children presenting to a general ED include provider selection of inappropriate pain scales, the patient’s own inaccuracy in using pain scales, the lack of awareness that pediatric pain continues to be undertreated, provider unfamiliarity with new pain management techniques, and medication dosing errors in pediatric populations (although less so with the emergence of electronic orders in the electronic medical record system).12
Approach to Pain Management in the ED
Timing is a major component of adequate assessment and treatment in the pediatric population. Upon initial triage, providers should implement an appropriate pain scale based on a child’s age and cognitive ability.
Important Aspects to Consider When Assessing Pain
Management of pain in the pediatric population begins with an accurate assessment. Although most adults can quantify pain with numeric scales, pain assessment in the pediatric population is more complex. A child’s ability to express pain can be influenced by age, cognitive development, gender, and cultural context. Pain assessment also is greatly influenced by the child’s level of anxiety, stress, and fear, which often is exacerbated by the chaotic ED environment.13 Additionally, as with adults, description and expression of pain also can be affected by culture.
Age and developmental variation are particularly important in the pediatric population in relation to pain. Children younger than 18 months are able to indicate that they are in pain by crying or simple expressions but cannot conceptualize or verbalize different levels of pain intensity.14 By 18 months old, a child can verbalize the fact that something hurts, localize the pain, and know that their pain may be alleviated.14 Between 2 and 4 years of age, children are better able to process the external aspects of objects and situations, leading to more elaborate descriptions of pain attributed to external causes.15,16 For example, children in this age range can identify and articulate an external cause of pain such as “the ball hit me and it hurt.” At 5 years of age, children can describe discomfort and define pain intensity; and by 6 years of age, they can clearly differentiate between levels of pain intensity.17 Children from 7 to 10 years of age generally are able to explain their pain and why it hurts.14 Adolescents are able to explain pain in a more abstract manner that includes both physical and emotional aspects.16
Normal fear and anxiety in children also follow a clear developmental pattern.18 For centuries, psychologists have described this pattern as fear of the natural environment and imaginary creatures in early preschool years, fear of physical danger in middle childhood, and fear of death and illness during adolescence.19,20 These aspects must be addressed routinely during pain assessment and should be used to individualize pain management for each patient’s needs.
Simple Strategies to Decrease a Child’s Anxiety in the ED
The expectation and presence of pain increases anxiety and pain perception.21 Anxiety is often manifested as irritability, resistance, and non-cooperation. To decrease unease, providers should use environmental and cognitive-behavioral strategies as applicable. These strategies help to distract and, therefore, decrease the child’s level of anxiety.
To decrease environmental stressors, children should be placed in individual child-friendly rooms, away from the noise and chaos of the ED. Simple techniques, including distraction (bubbles, toys, books, and visual aids), deep breathing techniques, and guided imagery can be very effective with young children.22,23 In addition, providing education, teaching coping techniques, and explaining procedures and treatment flow during the visit should be done by trained ED staff and child life specialists, when possible. Providers should explain procedures using age-appropriate language and refrain from making false promises, such as telling a patient that he or she will not experience any pain when the intervention has a possibility of being painful. Allowing a parent to be present for procedures as permitted also can decrease stress and anxiety. Parents also play a fundamental role in joint decision-making when creating pain management plans for their children.
Assessment of Pain
In the pediatric population, pain assessment most often is achieved by two means — observational/behavioral scales and self-reporting. (See Table 1.) Observational/behavioral scales rely on a provider’s interpretation of crying, groaning, facial expression, and posturing. These scales are reserved for patients who are too young to verbalize their pain and for cognitively impaired patients. Self-reporting relies on patients to verbalize their feelings and understand their pain on a continuum. Self-reporting is considered the gold standard for pain reporting because pain is primarily an internal experience, and self-reporting offers a window on the subjective aspects.17,24 Observational scales can be used as a complement or substitute when self-reporting is unavailable or in doubt.25 Physiologic measures (i.e., blood pressure and heart rate) are not effective for estimating pain because of variation by age and because these parameters are being affected by factors other than pain, such as fear, anxiety, and stress.13 It is important to note that while anxiety can increase pain perception, it is not accounted for separately in pain scales.22 Scales specifically for pain and for anxiety have been discussed in the literature; however, they are beyond the scope of this article.
Pain Assessment Scales Typically Used in the ED
No single pain scale has met criteria for accuracy and validity for all pediatric populations. As a result, there is no universal protocol for pediatric pain assessment in the ED. There are many validated, age-based pain scales that can be applied to a fast-paced ED setting; however, the frequency with which a pain assessment tool is used varies depending on each institution’s preferences.
The most common observational scale used in U.S. EDs is the Revised-Face Legs Activity Cry Consolability (r-FLACC) scale, which has received the highest clinical utility score. In nonverbal children, the Nursing Assessment of Pain Intensity (NAPI) was rated highly among clinicians for clinical utility compared with other pain scales for cognitively delayed patients.29
For younger children, visual analog pain scales are used to qualify pain and translate it into a visual representation that is meaningful to providers. Some examples are the FACES Pain Scale-Revised and the Wong-Baker Scale. These scales were created for children ages 3 to 8 years; however, the reliability of these scales has been shown to increase with age and the child’s cognitive ability.24 For older children, visual analog scales are replaced by horizontal numeric scales that use a linear gradient to qualify pain on a scale from 0 to 10. These scales are reserved for children 8 to 11 years of age. Adolescents are able to rate their pain using a numeric scale without the need for visual cues and also can be prompted with questions to identify different characteristics of their pain (i.e., location, duration, frequency, and worsening/alleviating factors).1
Providers should not rely solely on pain scales to measure discomfort. Families of patients may be able to give clues as to how the patient appears when they are in pain. This is especially useful for nonverbal children with cognitive impairment. The most effective pain assessment is done in conjunction with the patient, the patient’s caregivers, and the healthcare providers.
Non-pharmacologic Strategies: Non-pharmacologic strategies refer to interventions that do not use medication or pharmacologic agents to reduce pain. The benefits of using non-pharmacologic methods include decreased pain, distress, and anxiety reported by the parent, child, and/or observer.11 These methods have proven to be highly effective in EDs and can be used alone or in combination with pharmacologic strategies when possible.
Non-pharmacologic strategies can be divided into physical approaches and cognitive-behavioral strategies. Common physical strategies can include warm and cold compresses, pressure, vibration, massage, and immobilization.11,13 These procedures require minimal resources and prove highly effective in a busy ED setting.
Cognitive-behavioral strategies are largely dependent on the patient’s age and development. For example, common non-pharmacologic strategies for infants in pain include pacifiers/non-nutritive sucking, swaddling, rocking, singing/music, and sucrose administration.11 For young children, distraction techniques with toys and books commonly are used, while video games or computers are often used with adolescents.11
Pharmacologic Strategies: Once a child’s level of pain has been quantified using an age-appropriate pain scale and non-pharmacologic methods have been applied, it can be triaged appropriately. (See Figure 1.) In general, pain that is ranked on the lower end of most scales can be treated with first-line analgesics, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, while severe pain that is ranked on the higher end is usually treated with opioids. For the purposes of this article, a suggested pain management protocol will be reviewed, followed by a discussion of targeted pain management for common minor procedures (i.e., venipuncture, sutures, lumbar puncture, urethral catheterization, etc.).
Acute Pain Management
Most pediatric EDs have evidence-based protocols for management of acute pain. Non-pharmacologic strategies should be used in combination with pharmacologic agents when possible. For example, a young child who requires sutures would benefit from the application of a topical anesthetic in addition to an explanation of the procedure by a child life specialist and age-appropriate distraction techniques.
How To Better Incorporate Pain Management in the ED
Pediatric ED providers must be able to treat acute pain in a timely manner, via an appropriate route with an appropriate agent. Pain also must be monitored periodically post-intervention to evaluate whether there has been an adequate response to treatment.15 Pain management for general acute pain can be organized by the framework provided by the ED patient flow as seen in Figure 1.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are an excellent choice for mild to moderate pain in the ED setting. (See Table 2.) There are many different types of NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketorolac; however, when NSAIDs are given in equipotent doses, there is little if any difference in analgesic efficacy, including the intravenous (IV) vs. oral routes of administration.30 Ibuprofen is the most commonly used NSAID and is available via IV and enteral routes for patients who are 6 months of age and older. Limited data are available for infants younger than 6 months of age. NSAIDs are contraindicated for active gastrointestinal bleeding, bleeding disorders, and previous hypersensitivity reactions. They also are contraindicated in patients with renal failure because they increase the risk of acute kidney injury. In addition, some providers have supported the relative contraindication for the use of NSAIDs in patients with acute fractures, as a few studies have suggested that the use of NSAIDs in these patients can cause poor bone healing.30 Although the role of NSAIDs in fracture healing has been supported in animal models, there is no robust evidence to suggest significant harm resulting in short-term use of NSAIDs following a fracture in adult populations.31 Few comprehensive studies investigating NSAID use and bone healing have been conducted in pediatric populations.
Acetaminophen is another effective first-line pharmacologic agent for mild to moderate pain because of its timely onset of action and relatively low side effect profile. Acetaminophen is available via enteral, rectal, and IV routes. Enteral and rectal acetaminophen are used most commonly in the ED, given their ease of use and the fact that there is no need for special access. Rectal administration can aid in pain management in a patient without access who is unable to tolerate oral medications; however, rectal administration produces delayed and variable uptake. Studies have shown a single dose of 35-45 mg/kg per rectum generally produces therapeutic plasma concentrations in pediatric populations and a single dose of 20 mg/kg can produce safe plasma concentrations in preterm neonates.32 This dosing results in prolonged clearance and thus a longer duration. When using this technique, subsequent rectal doses should be smaller (i.e., 20 mg/kg/dose) and the doses should be spaced at least 6-8 hours.33
If a patient presents with moderate to severe pain, it is also reasonable to consider opioid medications. The administration of opioids long has been a controversial topic in emergency medicine. Many working ED physicians have significant “opiophobia,” the fear of prescribing opioids, stemming from the lack of proper knowledge about opioid analgesics, fear of masking an acute illness, or concerns about addiction or dependence.9 Additional barriers include the general fear of prescribing potent opioids to children and a limited confidence in the assessment of pediatric acute abdominal conditions by referring physicians.9,34
The choice of opioid therapy depends on many factors, including provider preference and comfort. Children with acute moderate pain typically are treated with a low dose of a strong opioid such as morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, or fentanyl.1 Combination products of acetaminophen with opioids also have gained popularity, although they should be used with caution because of the increased risk of acetaminophen overdose. In 2011, the FDA issued a request that providers stop prescribing combination drug products that contain more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per tablet, capsule, or other dosage unit to prevent the risk of severe liver injury from inadvertent acetaminophen overdose.35 Combined opioid/acetaminophen medications with smaller amounts of acetaminophen, such as hydrocodone/acetaminophen, since have come into favor among ED providers. (See Table 3.)
Common side effects of opioids include nausea and emesis. Several studies have demonstrated that the routine use of antiemetics is not necessary in adult ED patients, as the incidence of nausea and vomiting is relatively low; however, there are no major studies that have been conducted in pediatric patients to support or refute the benefit of routine use of antiemetics with opioids.36,37,38
Opioids generally are administered orally or intravenously in the ED. In emergency situations involving patients with difficult access, providers may attempt intraosseous, intranasal, intramuscular, and subcutaneous routes. Because opioids are most commonly delivered intravenously, providers should consider topical anesthetics during triage for patients who likely will require IV medications, as IV placement is often a painful procedure for most pediatric patients (see targeted pain section below). When administering opioids, it is important that the patient is placed on continuous oximetry because of the risk of respiratory depression.
Codeine (3-methylmorphine) is a naturally occurring methylated morphine that has been used for decades for its analgesic and antitussive properties; however, it has become widely unpopular because of its unpredictable effect and risk of respiratory depression and even death due to interpatient variation of its metabolism to morphine by the cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) enzyme system. Pain medications containing codeine (i.e., Tylenol no. 3) were removed from the World Health Organization list of essential medications in March 2011 because the “efficacy and safety were questionable in an unpredictable portion of the pediatric population.” It also received a “black box warning” by the FDA in February 2013 for its risk of respiratory depression when used in postoperative tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy patients.39 Codeine still may be used in older pediatric patients without respiratory issues in the ED; however, extreme caution should be used when prescribing this drug.
Common opioids include morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. (See Table 3.) Morphine is the recommended first-line treatment for moderate to severe pain because of its effectiveness and short half-life. Morphine commonly is given intravenously, but it also can be given intramuscularly or subcutaneously in patients without IV access. Hydromorphone is considered a more potent opioid than morphine because of its higher lipid solubility; and IV fentanyl offers the advantage of a shorter onset and duration of action than morphine. Hydromorphone is a feasible alternative for the management of acute pain in the ED when a patient requires a large bolus of opioid analgesics.40
Intranasal fentanyl has gained popularity when compared to IV opioids for treatment of moderate to severe pain for pediatric patients in the ED because of its fast onset and ease of administration.41 Protocols can be established for its use, indicating appropriate dosing by weight and appropriate administration with an atomizer. In general, administration is painless and minimally distressing for children.41 Studies also have shown that pain control with intranasal fentanyl is equivalent to that of IV morphine.32,41
Providers should be aware of the volume dispensed with intranasal medications. Small volumes of 0.2-0.3 mL per nostril are ideal, whereas volumes that exceed 1 mL per nostril are not absorbed reliably because of mucosal saturation and runoff from the nasal cavity.42 For older children, intranasal sufentanil may be a beneficial alternative, as it results in less volume of administration because it is 10 times more potent than fentanyl. Special care should be taken when administering sufentanil, as a common side effect is vomiting. Providers should consider administration with an antiemetic, although there is no evidence supporting prophylactic antiemetics with these medications. Both intranasal fentanyl and intranasal sufentanil have rapid onset and a short duration. Therefore, providers should coadminister an oral analgesic or obtain immediate IV access for administration of additional longer acting analgesics shortly after the administration of intranasal fentanyl or sufentanil.
Special care should be taken when combining opioids with benzodiazepines because of their sedative effect. Patients always must be placed on monitors during concomitant use of these medications because of the risk of central nervous system depression, leading to decreased respiratory status and death. Often, combinations of these medications are used intentionally together in the ED setting for procedural sedation; however, that is beyond the scope of this article.43
Targeted Pain Control for Minor Procedures
Pediatric patients are exposed to a variety of procedures in the ED, including venipunctures/IV insertion, intramuscular injections, lumbar punctures, sutures, and urine catheterizations. In these situations, special pain management techniques can be applied to the non-sedated pediatric patient. Pediatric EDs should establish protocols for routine use of these adjuncts by the staff who perform these minor procedures.
Topical Anesthetics Available for Procedures Involving Needles
Fast-acting topical numbing sprays and solutions can offer quick and effective pain control for procedures involving needles. These formulations also are available in patch forms to facilitate use. Vapocoolant sprays cool the skin surface immediately prior to venipuncture, IV placement, or intramuscular injections; desensitize skin pain receptors; and/or inhibit spinal cord pain signals by a specific cold temperature nerve impulse.44 Examples of these sprays include Fluo-Ethyl, Pain Ease, and Instant Ice. Fluo-Ethyl combines ethyl chloride with dichlorotetrafluoroethane, while Pain Ease and Instant Ice contain 1,1,1,3,3,-pentafluoropropane and 1,1,1,2,-tetrafluoroethane in spray form, which is not flammable or ozone depleting. These solutions should be used on intact skin only and should not be used around the eyes or in patients with poor circulation or sensitive skin. Other options for pain management during needle procedures include the application of topical analgesics such as LMX-4 (lidocaine 4%) and EMLA. (See Table 4.) However, because of their longer duration of onset, they require early application in triage.
Additional Tools Available for Laceration Repair
Topical Analgesics: Topical analgesics are used widely in pediatric populations. They are useful for procedures involving needles and in preparation for laceration repair. The earliest creams contained combinations of 11.8% cocaine, 0.5% tetracaine, and 1:2000 epinephrine known as TAC; however, cocaine-free preparations have proven to be equally effective with fewer documented side effects. TAC is no longer available in the United States. Common topical analgesics that can be used in wound repair include LET (4% lidocaine, 1:2000 epinephrine, 0.5% tetracaine) and EMLA (eutectic mixture of local anesthetics; 2.5% lidocaine and 2.5% prilocaine). (See Table 4.) LET and EMLA are considered superior to TAC because of their cost-effectiveness and superior safety record.45 LET is approved for use in non-mucosal open wound repair.45 EMLA cream also can provide anesthesia for laceration repair, although it is not FDA-approved for this purpose.23 However, when it is used for this purpose, gauze is saturated in a solution of EMLA, which is applied directly to the lacerations and covered with an occlusive dressing. EMLA and LET have been approved for use in all populations, including neonates.
Local and Regional Anesthetics: Local and regional anesthetics commonly are used for procedural pain control in pediatric populations. (See Table 5.) Local anesthesia involves the subcutaneous injection of an anesthetic drug into a small area, which causes numbness in a specific area (i.e., a small patch of skin). For regional anesthesia, the anesthetic block is directed at the trunk of a nerve and affects all the branches of the nerve that are derived from that trunk, resulting in a larger area of numbness (i.e., an entire arm or below the waist). The two most common regional and local anesthetics used in the ED are lidocaine and bupivacaine. Lidocaine can be used alone or applied after the application of topical anesthetics. Lidocaine can produce a stinging sensation because of its acidity when applied alone. To minimize the stinging sensation associated with lidocaine administration, it should be injected using the smallest gauge needle possible. The solution also can be warmed or buffered with bicarbonate in a 1:10 solution.23 Bupivacaine also can be used for regional anesthesia. It offers a longer duration of action than lidocaine and, therefore, is ideal for lengthy procedures including spinal blocks and high-quality sensory blocks.
Non-Pharmacologic Techniques: In some cases, non-pharmacologic techniques can replace traditional methods for decreasing pain during laceration repair. For example, topical tissue adhesives have become increasingly popular in the ED. Tissue adhesives such as Dermabond®, Indermil®, and Histoacryl® can be used as alternatives to sutures for superficial tissue approximation in lacerations, such as facial lacerations and selected extremity and torso lacerations under minimal tension.47 When used in areas with dense hair, such as the scalp, caution should be taken to make sure hair does not get into the wound. It is important to note that while tissue adhesives do not cause pain, they can produce a warm sensation temporarily when applied to the skin because they polymerize through an exothermic reaction. Tissue adhesives never should be applied directly into a wound or used on mucosal surfaces or mucocutaneous junctions. They also should be avoided in infections, gangrene or ulcerations, animal bites, areas of high moisture, partial thickness skin loss, or moderate to high tension areas such as over joints.48
Wound closure tapes are another alternative for laceration repair. Wound closure tapes, such as Steri-Strips with or without benzoin, are easy to apply and pain-free, which offers a major advantage for pain control for minor, low-tension wounds.47 Wound closure tapes are indicated for very small wounds (< 1-2 cm) with very little tension, such as the face and tips of the fingers that are already homeostatic.49
Small lacerations of the scalp can be approximated using a hair apposition technique initially described in 2002 in which manual twisting and gluing of the scalp hair bundles to close wounds in place of sutures or staples.50 Follow-up studies have shown that the hair apposition technique can be used safely in the repair of linear scalp lacerations; this method has the advantage of being more satisfying, with lower rates of cosmetic problems and complications in comparison to suturing and stapling techniques.51
Tools Available for Urine Catheterization
Bladder catheterization is a commonly performed painful procedure in the pediatric population in the ED. Viscous lidocaine (“lidocaine jelly”) has been used by providers to minimize pain associated with this procedure. This has been well supported in the literature for the adult population, although there is a paucity of data in the pediatric population.52,53,54 In the few studies that exist for the pediatric population, the findings have shown mixed results. A 2009 randomized, double-blind study evaluated whether the use of topical and intraurethral lidocaine would decrease distress in infants ages 2 to 24 months receiving urethral catheterization; the authors found that its use resulted in lower distress than the topical lubricant with standard catheterization, although it did not completely eliminate pain.55 A more recent 2015 randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial showed that in 133 infants, ages 0 to 24 months, a topical and intraurethral lidocaine was not associated with significant pain reduction during urethral catheterization, but significantly greater pain during instillation.56 Despite the evidence to the contrary, many clinicians continue to use lidocaine to alleviate pain associated with urethral catheterization. Since the evidence is not strong enough to support such a practice, pain relief during these procedures should be focused on noninvasive methods and joint decision-making with parents.
Pain medication should be provided upon discharge for patients expected to continue to experience some level of pain after their visit. The physician should pay attention carefully to dosing and length of therapy when prescribing analgesics, especially with opioids. All patients should receive clear, written instructions that include information about expectation of pain duration, as well as medication dosing, duration, and adverse effects. Instructions for non-pharmacologic therapies (i.e., warm and cold compresses) also should be given routinely.
Outpatient Opioid Use in the Pediatric Population
The administration of opioids should not be delayed for severe pain; however, providers should be aware of increasing trends in opioid abuse over the past decade, especially among adolescents, and be able to mitigate those risks. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2014, more than 460,000 adolescents were current non-medical users of pain relievers and 168,000 adolescents had an addiction to prescription pain relievers. Data from the 2001-2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey showed that the overall use of opioid analgesics in pain-related pediatric ED visits increased from 11.2% to 14.5% between 2001 and 2010, and the use of Drug Enforcement Agency schedule II agents doubled from 3.6% in 2001 to 7.0% in 2010.57 Nearly 13% of high school seniors report nonmedical use of a prescription opioid, and the most common method of obtaining opioids was from a prior medical prescription.58 These findings have medical implications, including an increase in accidental opioid-associated overdose and opioid-related deaths in this population.57
Inappropriate use of opioids can be combated by ED providers by educating patients and families on addiction and misuse, adhering to practices that limit the over-prescription of opioids, using prescription drug monitoring programs, and using adjunctive, non-opioid and non-pharmacologic treatments during and after the visit. Although screening for individuals at risk for opioid misuse would help prescribers cut down on opioid misuse, no validated screening measures have been created specifically for this purpose. Providers should pay attention to the indications for opioid prescribing, indications for short- vs. long-acting opioids, and appropriate duration for discharge prescribing. For example, providers should prescribe a short course (up to 3 days) of opioid or combination opioid/acetaminophen medication for acute pain conditions that require opioids.59 Long-acting or controlled-release opioids, such as OxyContin, fentanyl patches, and methadone, should not be prescribed in the ED for acute pain, as these require long-term monitoring for pain relief and signs of dependence and addiction, which realistically cannot be provided by ED physicians.60,61 Providers also should avoid providing replacement prescriptions for controlled substances that were lost, destroyed, or stolen, and should refer the patient back to the provider responsible for prescribing these long-term medications.59,61
Although major advancements have been made toward closing the gap of oligoanalgesia in pediatric patients in the ED, there remains room for improvement. These recommendations provide suggestions for improvement in today’s setting, but newer techniques are developing, which challenge providers to continue to learn and adapt to the ever-changing ED environment.
- Hauer J, Jones BL. Evaluation and management of pain in children. Polplack DG, Armsby C, eds. UpToDate, Inc.; 2016.
- Walco GA, et al. Applying a lifespan developmental perspective to chronic pain: Pediatrics to geriatrics. J Pain 2016;17(9 Suppl):T108-117.
- Grunau RE. Neonatal pain in very preterm infants: Long-term effects on brain, neurodevelopment and pain reactivity. Rambam Maimonides Med J 2013;4:e0025.
- Verghese ST, Hannallah RS. Acute pain management in children. J Pain Res 2010;3:105-123.
- Groenewald CB, et al. Prevalence of moderate-severe pain in hospitalized children. Paediatr Anaesth 2012;22:661-668.
- Elder K, et al. Addressing the differences by race in analgesia use among pediatric patients attending emergency departments. J Pediatr 2014;165:434-436.
- Fortier MA, et al. Pediatric pain after ambulatory surgery: Where’s the medication? Pediatrics 2009;124:e588-595.
- Baker DW. Joint Commission Statement on Pain Management: The Joint Commission; 2012 Available at: . Accessed Jan. 30, 2017.
- Karreman E, et al. Children receive less analgesia in general ERs than adults: A retrospective study. J Emerg Med Trauma Acute Care 2016; DOI: 10.5339/jemtac.2016.1.
- Alexander J, Manno M. Underuse of analgesia in very young pediatric patients with isolated painful injuries. Ann Emerg Med 2003;41:617-622.
- Wente SJK. Nonpharmacologic pediatric pain management in emergency departments: A systematic review of the literature. J Emerg Nurs 2013;39:140-150.
- Dalley JS, McMurtry CM. Teddy and I get a check-up: A pilot educational intervention teaching children coping strategies for managing procedure-related pain and fear. Pain Res Manag 2016;2016:4383967.
- Krauss BS, et al. Current concepts in management of pain in children in the emergency department. Lancet 2016;387:83-92.
- Carr A. What Works with Children and Adolescents? A Critical Review of Psychological Interventions with Children, Adolescents and their Families. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis; 2013 WorldCat.
- World Health Organization. WHO guidelines on the pharmacological treatment of persisting pain in children with medical illnesses. 2012. Available at: . Accessed Jan. 30, 2017.
- Esteve R, Marquina-Aponte V. Children’s pain perspectives. Child Care Health Dev 2012;38:441-452.
- Chan JY, von Baeyer CL. Cognitive developmental influences on the ability of preschool-aged children to self-report their pain intensity. Pain 2016;157:997-1001.
- Broeren S, Muris P. The relation between cognitive development and anxiety phenomena in children. J Child Fam Stud 2009;18:702-709.
- Gullone E. The development of normal fear: A century of research. Clin Psychol Rev 2000;20:429-451.
- Muris P, et al. Fears, worries, and scary dreams in 4- to 12-year-old children: Their content, developmental pattern, and origins. J Clin Child Psychol 2000;29:43-52.
- Murphy A, et al. Intranasal fentanyl for the management of acute pain in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014;Oct 10:CD009942.
- Murphy G. Distraction techniques for venepuncture: A review. Paediatr Nurs 2009;21:18-20.
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