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Management of pediatric tonsillectomy pain: a review of the literature

Authors Hansen J, Shah R, Benzon H

Received 22 October 2015

Accepted for publication 19 January 2016

Published 12 May 2016 Volume 2016:3 Pages 23—26

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/AA.S98896

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Thepakorn Sathitkarnmanee

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Gildasio S De Oliveira Jr.


Jennifer Hansen, Ravi D Shah, Hubert A Benzon

Department of Pediatric Anesthesiology, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA

Abstract: Tonsillectomy is associated with significant pain and postoperative pain control is often unsatisfactory. We discuss the various strategies that have been investigated to control pain following tonsillectomy. Codeine is a weak analgesic frequently used in children for the treatment of mild-to-moderate pain, however, due to adverse events related to its metabolism, it has been contraindicated for postoperative pain in children since 2013. Intravenous morphine is frequently used for moderate-to-severe pain in children, however, its active metabolite can lead to respiratory depressant and other undesirable side effects. Hydromorphone is a commonly used alternative that has been studied infrequently. Alternatives to narcotic pain strategies have also been studied. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are effective as analgesics, yet many practitioners avoid their use given the concern for postoperative bleeding. Intraoperative acetaminophen has been shown to improve postoperative pain and decrease recovery room time. Dexamethasone has been shown to improve postoperative pain, vomiting, and decrease airway swelling, and seems to be effective for use during tonsillectomy surgery. Ketamine has been shown to decrease analgesic requirements without adverse affects of hallucinations. Direct injection of local anesthetic into the tonsillar bed has been shown to be effective in improving pain control, however, there is concern that local anesthetic could be erroneously injected into the carotid artery and lead to devastating consequences. Optimal pain control regimens following pediatric tonsillectomy continue to be a challenge for both anesthesiologists and otorhinolaryngologists. Opioids are the most commonly used but are associated with significant side effects, especially postoperative respiratory depression. Adjuncts may be safely used in the perioperative period and may have narcotic sparing effects as well as improved cost effectiveness. Further research into additional analgesics strategies is necessary to improve the perioperative course.

Keywords: pediatric, pain, tonsillectomy

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