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Children need pain relief following surgery

September 8, 2009 |  2:40 pm

Tonsil It has taken many years for the medical profession to realize that children feel pain just like adults do. Today hospitals are much more aggressive about treating pediatric pain. But parents may not be getting the message. A study in the new issue of the journal Pediatrics found that a stunning number of children experience significant pain at home following an outpatient tonsillectomy. Parents are not providing enough pain medication to keep their children comfortable.

The study, by a research team at UC Irvine and Children's Hospital of Orange County, involved 261 children ages 2 to 12 who underwent routine tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Parents rated their children's pain in the days following surgery and reported on how much medication they gave their children. The study found that, on the first day home, 86% of children had significant pain, yet 24% received either no pain medication or only one dose throughout the entire day. On Day 3, 67% of children experienced significant pain, yet 41% received no dose or only one dose.

Studies show that many children experience serious pain following a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy, and the pain can last for a week. It's unclear why parents don't provide enough pain medication but possible explanations include parents' fears about the drugs, such as dependence or overdose; the mistaken assumption that young children can feel severe pain; or a belief that pain medication should be used only as a last resort. In reality, pain medication should be given at regular intervals during the post-operative period to prevent surges of severe discomfort, doctors say.

Doctors need to do a better job explaining how to use pain medication, the authors said.

"There is a pressing need for researchers to focus attention on the translation of knowledge to target children's pain management at home," they wrote.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times