A Child’s Fear of Needles – Gone in Just a Puff!

Even the most hardened, insensitive person can’t help but feel a growing sense of dread when about to step through the looming, clinical doors of a hospital – especially when painful treatments and an uncertain outcome await on the other side.

Often those treatments include some form of “needlework.”

As adults, we try to draw on our powers of reason and logic to overcome fears of getting hurt by a painful jab. But what about a small child? Or even a young adolescent?

Some children find this situation extremely traumatic and are unable to accept the necessary injection. They may scream and kick to get away – anything to relieve the terror in their hearts.

After seeing again and again, how extremely distressing these painful injections were for her young cancer patients, one assistant nurse in Sweden began to wonder if there might be a better way to approach needle procedures for children.

She felt driven to try to lessen their fear of pain and extreme distress at the very sight of needles!

So, for the last several years, Lena Hedén has done a thorough, scientific study of this question, and tested a possible solution. Her findings are presented in the doctoral thesis: Distressing Symptoms in Children with Cancer in General; During Needle Procedures in Particular published by Uppsala University in the Spring of 2012.

And her research has certainly paid off.

Using a series of controlled studies, she compared the amount of pain and fear children experienced when about to undergo a needle procedure. In total, almost 300 young cancer patients aged 1 to 19 participated in the four studies. Parents and nurses also provided information about how much fear and pain they could see the child was expressing.

The standard way of approaching a needle procedure is to use a topical cream or patch that numbs the skin of the puncture site. When a needle is inserted in a subcutaneous port, oral morphine and midazolam are used to help ease the pain.
In this study, patients were given the standard medicines or a placebo on some occasions. At other times they got to play with soap bubbles or cuddle with a heated pillow.


Dr. Hedén’s findings were rather astounding. There was no difference in how much effect the morphine had, compared to the placebo. According to the patients, oral morphine had almost no effect whatsoever!

However, blowing soap bubbles or having a heated pillow, clearly reduced the children’s fear and distress during the needle procedures. This was especially true for younger children. Wonderfully, the most frightened children showed marked improvement with these distraction interventions.
Remarkable! Soap bubbles helped much more than morphine!

Perhaps we grown-ups should take really close notice here. Are these young, brave cancer warriors teaching us a vital lesson? Or perhaps just driving home an important reminder?

Nurturing our childish side all through life, helps us remember to have some fun now and then – even when times are hard – and… 
… blowing soap bubbles can be powerful medicine at any age!

July, 2012
Lund, Sweden
About the Author: Janet Boynton Runeson is a freelance web copywriter and director of Entrepreneurial Copy. With several advanced degrees in the Humanities, Fine Arts and Economics, she has extensive experience in international marketing and specializes in cultural awareness.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *