Recurrent hypoxemia in children is associated with increased analgesic sensitivity to opiates

Anesthesiology. 2006 Oct;105(4):665-9. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200610000-00009.


Background: Postsurgical administration of opiates in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has recently been linked to an increased risk for respiratory complications. The authors have attributed this association to an effect of recurrent oxygen desaturation accompanying OSA on endogenous opioid mechanisms that, in turn, alter responsiveness to subsequent administration of exogenous opiates. In a retrospective study, the authors have shown that oxygen desaturation and young age in children with OSA are correlated with a reduced opiate requirement for postoperative analgesia.

Methods: The current study was designed to test that conclusion prospectively in 22 children with OSA scheduled to undergo adenotonsillectomy. The children were stratified to those having displayed < 85% or > or = 85% oxygen saturation nadir during sleep preoperatively. Using a blinded design, the children were given morphine postoperatively to achieve an identical behavioral pain score.

Results: As compared with children in the > or = 85% group, the < 85% oxygen saturation nadir group required one half the total analgesic morphine dose postoperatively, indicating heightened analgesic sensitivity to morphine after recurrent hypoxemia.

Conclusions: Previous recurrent hypoxemia in OSA is associated with increased analgesic sensitivity to subsequent morphine administration. Therefore, opiate dosing in children with OSA must take into account a history of recurrent hypoxemia.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Apnea / epidemiology
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications*
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / therapeutic use
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Respiratory Mechanics / drug effects
  • Tonsillectomy


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Morphine