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Intranasal fentanyl reduces acute pain in children in the emergency department: A safety and efficacy study


  • Meredith L Borland, MBBS, FRACGP, Telethon Research Fellow; Ian Jacobs, PhD, FRCNA, Senior Lecturer; Gary Geelhoed, MBBS, FRACP, Director.

Dr Meredith Borland, Emergency Department, Box Hill Hospital, Nelson Road, Box Hill Vic. 3128, Australia.


Introduction: Provision of rapid, painless and effective analgesia to children remains problematic in the prehospital and emergency setting. Intranasal fentanyl has the potential to eliminate many of the problems of narcotic administration in children. The aim of this study, conducted in a tertiary paediatric emergency department was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of intranasal fentanyl in children.

Methods: Children in acute pain aged between three and 12 years inclusive were enrolled on presentation to the emergency department. Routine observations and pain scoring by the child and caregiver was undertaken prior to the child receiving fentanyl (20 µg for 3–7 year olds and 40 µg for 8–12 year olds) and at intervals of 5 min for 30 min Additional fentanyl at the dose of 20 µg was given 5 minutely as required. Caregivers and older children used a visual analogue scale (VAS) and the younger children used the Wong-Baker faces scale (WBS).

Results: Forty five children were enrolled with a mean age of 8.0 years. The median dose of fentanyl administered was 1.5 µg/kg. Mean pain score in 32 children using the VAS was 62.3 mm (95% confidence interval 53.2–69.4 mm) at presentation and reduced at 10 min to 44.6 mm (95% confidence interval 36.2–53.1 mm). In 16 children using WBS the initial mean reading was 4.0 (95% confidence interval 3.3–4.7) and reduced to 2.2 (95% confidence interval 1.3–3.1) at 10 min. Caregiver pain scores showed a mean preintervention pain score of 64.9 mm (95% confidence interval 57.7–72.2 mm) with a significant reduction at 10 min to 41.7 mm (95% confidence interval 34.7–48.6 mm). There was no significant alteration in pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure or oxygen saturations. There were no negative side-effects.

Conclusions: Early and significant reduction in pain (compared to baseline assessments) was achieved in children using intranasal fentanyl by 10 min and sustained throughout the 30 min of observations. This raises the possibility of using intranasal fentanyl in children in the prehospital setting as well as a role for this form of analgesia as triage nurse-initiated administration in the emergency department.