Children's biggest source of pain, trauma in healthcare

Needle pokes may be children's biggest source of pain in healthcare and can lead to needle phobias as adults, NPR reported Feb. 13.

Needle use is common for children receiving treatment in emergency departments as well as routine care such as vaccines, and a bad experience can make children and parents hesitant to seek care again. 

The fear of needle pain can follow kids into adulthood. About 25% of adults who are afraid of needles acquired the phobia in childhood, according to CDC estimates, and 16% of adults refuse flu vaccination due to the needle.

"This is so bad that many children and many parents decide not to continue the treatment,"  Stefan Friedrichsdorf, MD, a pain specialist at the University of California San Francisco's Stad Center for Pediatric Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine, told NPR.

Dr. Friedrichsdorf developed new protocols for children at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland called the Ouchless Jab Challenge. If a child needs a blood draw, IV, vaccine or anything else with a needle, clinicians are expected to do the following:

  1. Apply over-the-counter numbing cream 30 minutes before the shot.

  2. Breastfeed babies or give them pacifiers dipped in sugar water for comfort while getting a shot.

  3. Use distractions to divert attention from needles.

  4. Children should not be pinned down; they should be held in a parent's lap.

The protocols could make routine healthcare less painful to kids and keep parents from being hesitant about seeking care. It could also help the next generation see fewer adults afraid of needles.

"We are taught to see pain as an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of good treatment," Diane Meier, MD, a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai in New York City, told NPR. "We learn to repress that feeling of distress at the pain we are causing, because otherwise we can't do our jobs."

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