Extensive evidence exists showing analgesic effects of sweet solutions for newborns and infants. It is less certain if the same analgesic effects exist for children one year to 16 years of age. This is an updated version of the original Cochrane review published in Issue 10, 2011 (Harrison 2011) titled Sweet tasting solutions for reduction of needle-related procedural pain in children aged one to 16 years.
To determine the efficacy of sweet tasting solutions or substances for reducing needle-related procedural pain in children beyond one year of age.
Searches were run to the end of June 2014. We searched the following databases: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE), Cochrane Methodology Register, Health Technology Assessment, the NHS Economic Evaluation Database, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and ACP Journal Club (all via OvidSP), and CINAH (via EBSCOhost). We applied no language restrictions.
Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCT) in which children aged one year to 16 years, received a sweet tasting solution or substance for needle-related procedural pain. Control conditions included water, non-sweet tasting substances, pacifier, distraction, positioning/containment, breastfeeding, or no treatment.
Outcome measures included crying duration, composite pain scores, physiological or behavioral pain indicators, self-report of pain or parental or healthcare professional-report of the child's pain. We reported mean differences (MD), weighted mean difference (WMD), or standardized mean difference (SMD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) using fixed-effect or random-effects models as appropriate for continuous outcome measures. We reported risk ratio (RR), risk difference (RD), and the number needed to treat to benefit (NNTB) for dichotomous outcomes. We used the I(2) statistic to assess between-study heterogeneity.
We included one unpublished and seven published studies (total of 808 participants); four more studies and 478 more participants than the 2011 review. Six trials included young children aged one to four years receiving sucrose or candy lollypops for immunisation pain compared with water or no treatment. Usual care included topical anaesthetics, upright parental holding, and distraction. All studies were well designed blinded RCTs, however, five of the six studies had a high risk of bias based on small sample sizes.Two studies included school-aged children receiving sweet or unsweetened chewing gum before, or before and during, immunisation and blood collection. Both studies, conducted by the same author, had a high risk of bias based on small sample sizes.Results for the toddlers/pre-school children were conflicting. Duration of cry, using a random-effects model, was not significantly reduced by sweet taste (six trials, 520 children, WMD -15 seconds, 95% CI -54 to 24, I(2) = 94%).Composite pain score at time of first needle was reported in four studies (n = 121 children). The scores were not significantly different between the sucrose and control group (SMD -0.26, 95% CI -1.27 to 0.75, I(2) = 86%).A Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Pain Scale score > 4 was significantly less common in the sucrose group compared to the control group in one study (n = 472, RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.67; RD -0.29, 95% CI -0.37 to -0.20; NNTB 3, 95% CI 3 to 5; tests for heterogeneity not applicable.For school-aged children, chewing sweet gum before needle-related painful procedures (two studies, n = 111 children) or during the procedures (two studies, n = 103 children) did not significantly reduce pain scores. A comparison of the Faces Pain Scale scores in children chewing sweet gum before the procedures compared with scores of children chewing unsweetened gum revealed a WMD of -0.15 (95% CI -0.61 to 0.30). Similar results were found when comparing the chewing of sweet gum with unsweetened gum during the procedure (WMD 0.23, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.74). The Colored Analogue Scale for children chewing sweet gum compared to unsweetened gum before the procedure was not significantly different (WMD 0.24 (-0.69 to 1.18)) nor was it different when children chewed the gum during the procedure (WMD 0.86 (95% CI -0.12 to 1.83)). There was no heterogeneity for any of these analyses in school-aged children (I(2) = 0%).
Based on the eight studies included in this systematic review update, two of which were subgroups of small numbers of eligible toddlers from larger studies, and three of which were pilot RCTs with small numbers of participants, there is insufficient evidence of the analgesic effects of sweet tasting solutions or substances during acutely painful procedures in young children between one and four years of age. Further rigorously conducted, adequately powered RCTs are warranted in this population. Based on the two studies by the same author, there was no evidence of analgesic effects of sweet taste in school-aged children. As there are other effective evidence-based strategies available to use in this age group, further trials are not warranted.Despite the addition of four studies in this review, conclusions have not changed since the last version of the review.