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Trying Acupuncture May Be Helpful for Treating Tonsillectomy Pain in Kids

Harold Mandel's picture
An acupuncturist's office

When kids are in pain it's really very troubling for everyone around them. There are often concerns about treating pain in kids with drugs due to potential serious side effects, which can include coma and death, which may be associated with pain killers. A consideration of natural remedies for pain relief in children often arises due to these concerns, with acupuncture emerging as a viable alternative to drugs.

Children sometimes suffer for up to 10 days with severe throat pain after a tonsillectomy, reports the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. Codeine elixir has traditionally been used for pain relief in kids. However, this has recently been banned by the Food and Drug Administration because of a recently recognized risk of death. Researchers therefore decided to investigate acupuncture as an alternative means of pain relief for children and adolescents after they have a tonsillectomy.

In this study there were no narcotics prescribed after surgery. Patients who needed help with pain relief were offered the option of acupuncture. The perceived pain level in the patients was assessed prior to and after the acupuncture treatment. After the 10-day recovery period for tonsillectomy, patients or their parents were asked how long the pain relief which they experienced from acupuncture treatment was perceived to last.

The statistics from the study supported the overall conclusion that pain reports decline after acupuncture. There were no adverse effects observed as a result of acupuncture treatments. The results of the study have tentatively suggested that acupuncture decreases perceived pain in children and adolescents after they undergo a tonsillectomy. A consideration of these findings along with the cost effectiveness, safety and the ease of administering acupuncture has suggested that further studies to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in children after tonsillectomy are warranted.

Dr. James Ochi, who is a San Diego pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, conducted a study which used acupuncture instead of codeine for pain relief for his tonsillectomy patients, reports Rady Children's Hospital San Diego. As noted, children have generally been prescribed codeine for pain relief after undergoing surgery to remove their tonsils. However, in February 2013, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) acted to ban the use of codeine for this purpose due to a recently recognized risk of serious complications.

Dr. Ochi said, "I’ve been using medical acupuncture for years to help my patients suffer less pain after surgery. Now that it is unsafe to use codeine for these kids, I wanted to see if acupuncture without the use of narcotics was helpful for my patients." Dr. Ochi has also said that acupuncture is safe and can be done very quickly with a minimal cost. And in general acupuncture has been shown to be effective in reducing pain.

There were 31 patients from 2 to 17 years old included in this study who were given acupuncture after tonsillectomy. There was a mean pain level of 5.52 out of 10 noted by patients or their parents prior to acupuncture treatment. The pain level fell to 1.92 after just about 15 minutes of acupuncture treatment. The parents of the kids estimated that the benefit from the acupuncture lasted about 2½ days. There were no adverse effects reported from the treatments without drugs.

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Patients have been relying on over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol and ibuprofen ever since the FDA ban on the use of codeine. These drugs also have risks and adverse effects, particularly in young patients. Furthermore, they may not even be effective. The old mainstay of therapy for children suffering from pain after having their tonsils removed, narcotics, are simply no longer considered safe to prescribe. It has therefore become imperative to find treatments to help these young patients with their pain in an effective and safe manner.

Dr. Ochi points out kids often experience pain for ten days after tonsillectomy, no matter who performs the surgery or how the surgery is done. The pain generally lasts even longer in adults. It has been very gratifying for Dr. Ochi to witness a reduction in pain and discomfort in children after surgery, using the drug free treatment of acupuncture. Another study recently done at Harvard Medical School showed acupuncture reduced pain and agitation in kids undergoing ear surgery.

Acupuncture ranks among the oldest healing practices across the world, writes the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In the United States acupuncture is considered to be a valid part of complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncture practitioners incorporate healing traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. Acupuncture, acupressure and aromatherapy may offer pain relief, writes EmaxHealth reporter Deborah Mitchell.

For thousands of years acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries. Scientists have been studying the effectiveness of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions. There are relatively few complications reported from the use of acupuncture. However, there can be potentially serious side effects from acupuncture if it is not delivered properly by a qualified practitioner.

There are literally millions of Americans who use acupuncture each year, often for the treatment of chronic pain. However, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the value of acupuncture as a therapy. Questions have been raised as to whether it is anything more than just placebo. There has therefore been ongoing research to explore a number of possible mechanisms for the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture.

In the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles which are used by licensed practitioners. It is required that these needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain high standards. The FDA requires that acupuncture needles be sterile, nontoxic, and that they are labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. There have been relatively few complications reported to the FDA from the use of acupuncture. This is significant in view of the millions of people who are treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles which are used.

However, complications have resulted from using needles which are not adequately sterilized and from improper delivery of treatments. Practitioners should always use a new set of disposable needles which are taken from a sealed package for each patient and they should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting these needles. When acupuncture is not delivered properly, it can cause serious adverse effects, which include infections and punctured organs.

I have noticed a large interest in acupuncture as more and more people become concerned about possible side effects from drugs. These concerns are particularly acute in dealing with children who clearly may be extremely sensitive to the use of narcotics. I therefore suggest that acupuncture offers a very viable consideration as an effective, safe and economical alternative for pain treatment, particularly in children.

Patients should be very careful to make certain that they choose practitioners who are properly trained and licensed to use acupuncture to avoid the possibility of adverse side effects. I also encourage ongoing investments in research to help us understand more about this ancient form of Traditional Chinese Medicine which has been with mankind for thousands of years. It appears there is more than a placebo effect involved with acupuncture. Acupuncture impacts the brain to reduce pain, according to medical writer Deborah Mitchell.