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Can a Little Cough Ease the Pain of a Shot?

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

A study that was published in an issue of Pediatrics caught my eye . The title “Cough trick may reduce pain of routine immunizations” seemed relevant to my practice so I decided to preview the study a little early.

imagesThe study was performed at The University of Nebraska and involved 68 children (small sample size) and they were all receiving vaccines at either the pre-kindergarten visit (age four to five years) or at the 11 to12-year-old visit when routine immunizations are again given.

In this study the children were all instructed to COUGH while getting their vaccines and then the children as well as their parents and nurses were surveyed to see how painful the procedure seemed. For the kids they used visual scales (pictures of painful faces) to demonstrate degree of pain.

There have been numerous studies done in previous years looking at methods to reduce pain during simple office visits for immunizations. Strategies from the use of topical anesthetics (EMLA cream), to sucking on sucrose dipped nipples for babies, to blowing bubbles to distract patients have all been used.

In many of these cases the cost or time involved in these strategies was prohibitive for routine use in a busy office or clinic setting But, in this study, the time and cost was NONE as the children were taught to give one BIG cough prior to the injection and then coughed again at the time of injection. What a wonderful discovery! Easy, efficient and no training necessary for staff. In this study it wasn’t clear that it helped all children, and interestingly it seemed to be more effective in certain racial groups than others?

In the meantime, while the academic and research docs are at work, I am going to try this approach in my own office I hate the four to five-year-old shots almost as much as the children and parents and have watched my own children scream and yell while getting all of those vaccines. Not fun for anyone.

If that screaming, yelling and anxiety can be even slightly diminished by a cough or two, why not? It seems so easy. (I still think a lollipop at the end is helpful too). I guess we could all do a study on the “combo technique” of a cough followed by sugar and see what results we all get. Maybe get it published in Pediatrics next year?

So, if you are headed to the doctor in the near future, and you know that it is time for immunizations, why not try “coaching” your child on the “cough trick” and see what you think. If your doctor isn’t aware of this study let them know it will be published in the next few weeks, but you can read it on line now.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question of comment to Dr. Sue!

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2 Responses to “Can a Little Cough Ease the Pain of a Shot?”

  1. Elizabeth Helton says:

    My kids are also convinced that what works on animals would help them too. Our vet pinches or presses on an injection site to numb/deaden the nerves right before giving our dog a shot. I have discussed the need to keep human injection sites sterile, but the kids still think it could be done with alcohol wipes and/or gloves. It’s worth a shot!

  2. Dave Ekrem says:

    Great article–and I love the simple solution! MassGeneral Hospital for Children recently launched a new program to reduce needle-stick pain for kids:

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