The postoperative respiratory and analgesic effects of dexmedetomidine and morphine have not been compared in children with sleep apnoea having adenotonsillectomy. In a randomised double-blind study we recruited 60 children, aged 2–13 years, who received either intravenous dexmedetomidine 1 μ−1 or morphine 100 μ−1 on anaesthetic induction. End-tidal carbon dioxide, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Pain Scale score and supplementary morphine administration were recorded every 15 min for 60 min postoperatively. Over 60 min, mean (SD) end-tidal carbon dioxide was consistently lower with dexmedetomidine compared with morphine (5.4 (0.7) kPa vs 6.0 (0.6) kPa, respectively; p = 0.001). Mean (SD) pain scores were higher with dexmedetomidine (8.1 (2.0) immediately postoperatively and 6.7 (1.0) at 60 min vs 7.6 (1.8) and 6.3 (0.7), respectively, with morphine (p = 0.023)). More patients required supplementary morphine with dexmedetomidine (13/30 (43%) vs 21/30 (70%); p = 0.037). Postoperatively, dexmedetomidine produced less respiratory depression than morphine, but less effective analgesia.

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