By Kristy L Rackham, RN
It’s a tricky subject. Managing pain in children, particularly chronic pain, is a subject close to my heart. There really is nothing worse than watching your baby struggle with pain, whether emotional or physical… it tears at the heart and soul in ways that are impossible to describe.
Pain management for kids is certainly an interesting discussion, and raises many a debate. As parents, we don’t want to see our children in pain, and we’ll do just about anything to help them. That’s when many turn to Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, afterall it’s what Doctors and Pharmacists usually recommend as safe for kids as young as month old babies.
My children and I have a genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). I was triggered into a chronic flare up after the birth of my son, and was very ill at the peak of the disorder with chronic pain and fatigue in 2012. We all have suffered with various levels of chronic pain as a result. My son with joint and generalised pain, my little girl with constant abdominal pain. Upon discovering what was going on and receiving a diagnosis, I’ve been on a quest to find ways to effectively manage pain for myself and my family and to pass on what we learn to others.
From the beginning on this journey, I’ve intuitively felt that giving pharmaceutical medicines to children was a very bad idea for chronic illness, and that it would potentially exacerbate the symptoms in the long term, adding further ‘toxic load’ to an already struggling little body. Scientific and empirical research seemed to support this feeling of mine. The stark reality is, there are no specially designed drugs for chronic pain, and ALL medications can produce side effects ranging from mild to dangerous, especially if used incorrectly, or over long periods of time. Bottom line, I didn’t want to give my kids drugs unless I had exhausted every other option first.
Acute Use of Pharmaceuticals for Kids
Using panadol for acute pain (rapid onset, short duration) in children is 'safe' in short bursts and as instructed. This class of drug are considered safe because a healthy liver can isolate and eliminate the toxin effectively. It is important to note that the medicines DO NOT treat the underlying cause of the pain, but can be effective to relieve pain and make your children more comfortable if they are obviously distressed. If this type of pain relief doesn't work in a child, then it is time the child see a health professional.
As a holistic nurse, and specialist in holistic management of chronic illness, I prefer to use medications such as this as a last resort, rather than first ‘go to’ remedy, especially for children with chronic conditions. Usually a child or adult living with chronic illness already has a high work load for their organs to manage, and adding toxins such as drugs to the mix can only further burden an already struggling system.
Fortunately, there are many other ways to treat acute pain in children that are just as effective, are totally natural, include a good dose of parental nurturing (which is often just as healing as the intervention), and have no side effects. See my article on the top 10 non-toxic pain relievers for kids here.
What About Chronic Pain Management?
Chronic pain (ongoing, longer than 3 weeks) is a trickier kettle of fish, but the same approach applies. Using natural, non-toxic remedies first, medication as last resort, and only for short periods of time to ‘take the edge off’ and help your child comfortable. In chronic illness, a far more long term and holistic approach to relieving pain is necessary. We need to address other factors that get to the cause of the illness, whilst relieving the pain and helping our kiddies be more comfy. These might include;
Obviously, asking the question "why is my child in pain?" is a very important one when working out what’s going on. Is it from stress? (yes, children can get stressed at very young ages); is the pain from a chronic condition that is unlikely to be resolved with a couple of doses?; is my child unconsciously avoiding an emotional challenge?; did he/she just fall over; are they teething?
When we can deduce where the pain is originating, the answer of whether to use pharmaceutical pain relief or alternative pain management then becomes easier. Often, children simply require comfort and assurance when they are hurting and an icepack/bandaid/bath/rest/cuddle/distraction will avoid the necessity of drugs at all.
Ultimately, the type of pain relief used by a parent for their child comes down to seeing what works best for your family in the given circumstances. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, parents will weigh a multitude of aspects before deciding on a course of action for pain management in their child: time, frequency of pain, effectiveness of pain system used, child's physical and emotional comfort, family situation, convenience and more.
To sum up, I would certainly suggest research into natural remedies for acute and chronic pain, and self-education on how pharmaceuticals works within a child’s body. It is important to arm yourself with this information so that you can make an informed decision on pain management techniques for your children, and to use any method with due diligence and caution – both Lavender and Panadol/Nurofen are safely tolerated by the body in small quantities but they can all become toxic if used incorrectly! You wouldn't swallow a bottle-worth of either! Whatever your decision, choose consciously and be confident in your parenting. When you’ve made the choice, be okay with it!
For more information on how to manage your child’s chronic condition, please don't hesitate to contact me directly for a chat about how we can help you and your kids to feel better.