Fort Worth, Texas,
10:15 AM

Taking the Pain & Fear Out of the Flu Shot

Old tricks and new technology ease stress of vaccines

For years, parents have favored the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine to painful shots for their children. This year, however, they may not have a choice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending against spray vaccines, such as FluMist, after finding it only 3% effective in preventing the flu in children. Instead, they're urging parents and pediatricians to opt for the shot.

If your child is like most, this is bad news because needles are often enemy number one.

The good news is, there are ways to make this undesirable trip to the doctor's office a little less traumatic. At Cook Children's Medical Center, Child Life Manager Janis Smith discusses ways to help kids cope with pain and stress. When it comes to needles, she says a little distraction can go a long way.

"An iPad, a book, or even engaging conversation can often be enough to take a child's mind and eyes off of the shot," said Smith. "We also encourage deep breathing and sometimes utilize a cold spray to help numb the skin."

A newer technique taking the pain out of shots is called Buzzy. This friendly-looking device comes in the form of a bee or lady bug and can trick the body's nerves with cold and vibration.

"Buzzy's wings are made of ice packs and its body buzzes. When placed above the injection site, these sensations knock the nerves off their game and help eliminate and/or minimize the pain from the shot," said Smith.

While many pediatricians provide tools like Buzzy in their offices, parents can also buy their own in Cook Children's onsite pharmacy.

Another way to ease the sting of the flu shot is comfort positioning. This means creating a secure hold, like hugging, that offers comfort to the child while immobilizing the extremity needed for the procedure (such as the arm). This minimizes anxiety as well the need to hold a child down, which can be traumatic.

For older children, it may help to ask them to do something, such as focusing on an iPad.

"Allowing children to play an active role during the procedure process can often minimize fears and encourage positive coping,'" said Smith.

Smith also suggests offering validation to a child who is afraid of shots.

"Try saying something like, 'I know that you don't want to do this, but it's a way we can help you from getting the flu,'" said Smith. "In the end, no one likes shots. But when children do need shots, we want to provide them with opportunities to cope successfully and help make them as painless as possible."

About the Source

Janis Smith is a Child Life Manager at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Child Life specialists work with children and families to help them cope with the extra challenges of living with chronic illness.

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