How much do you know about soothing a child’s pain?

Pain, much like fever, is not a disease, but a symptom alerting one to an underlying problem. Here’s how health professionals can best advise parents.

Causes and types of pain

Pain may be caused by many factors and may be experienced as sharp, burning, dull, constant, intermittent, pressure or even needling. Parents should take note of the type, location and severity of the pain in order to accurately describe it to the doctor, should this become necessary. Also note that:

  • An acute condition like ear, chest or bladder infection, will usually be accompanied by severe pain in the relevant region
  • Inflammation, which is associated with infection but not necessarily caused by a micro-organism, involves redness and swelling, causing pain
  • Pain is a protection mechanism of the body, making one avoid certain actions in order not to aggravate the underlying condition, for instance a strain, sprain or swelling
  • Some ‘normal’ body processes are also accompanied by pain, like teething in children
  • Headaches have various causes, some physical and some emotional; some serious and some not
  • Many congenital conditions are accompanied by chronic pain and discomfort

Five pain pointers

It’s important to know these five things about childhood pain:

  1. Pain thresholds differ from child to child
  2. Parents soon know what is ‘normal’ and what is of concern in their child – use this knowledge
  3. Help children to become resilient about pain but also monitor signs carefully for underlying problems
  4. Babies and toddlers cannot describe their pain, but observing their body language carefully will help parents pick up on serious problems
  5. Take changes to familiar discomfort patterns seriously as these give a good idea of the type and severity of a problem

Ten pain-relieving tips for parents

When concerned parents approach you for help with their little one who is experiencing pain, give them these tips:

  1. Get your child to rest more – read to them or involve them in quiet play
  2. Keep your child at home if pain is due to illness
  3. Distract your child with new toys or games (these don’t have to be costly!)
  4. For teething pain, apply counter pressure to and rub the gums with a clean finger
  5. Elevate injured limbs to reduce swelling
  6. Warm baths relieve pain for many children
  7. Cool compresses often ease pain from swelling
  8. Massaging a painful area is useful for some
  9. Movement and rocking can soothe pain temporarily
  10. If pain is ‘emotional’ in nature, try and find out what is worrying your child or see a counsellor

Time for pain medication

Advise parents to give the minimum dose of pain-relieving medication so as not to mask underlying problems, but they should also:

  • Know that giving pain medication allows a child’s body to rest and spontaneous recovery processes to start
  • Never give over-the-counter pain medication for longer than 2-3 days without medical supervision
  • Never give bigger doses of pain medication than indicated on the package
  • Take their child to be evaluated by their doctor as soon as possible, if they are at all concerned about their child’s fever or discomfort, or if they do not see prompt improvement from the advice you have given.