The use of inhalational anesthesia for insertion of tympanostomy tubes in children provides no postoperative pain relief. Our retrospective analysis of children following tympanostomy tube insertion previously had shown significant postoperative elevations of blood pressure and heart rate in over 70% of cases. These changes, along with behavioral findings and complaints of discomfort, are suggestive of pain. Phenol has been used in adults for local anesthesia during tympanostomy tube insertion. This study determined prospectively whether pain occurred postoperatively and whether phenol placed on the tympanic membrane just prior to myringotomy would reduce postoperative pain in children, as measured by behavioral and physiologic parameters. Results of a double-blind, randomized trial in 46 children showed that both the phenol-treated and the control groups demonstrated significant elevations in pain scores postoperatively (P = 0.0001), which then slowly diminished to baseline by 45 min to one hour. The phenol group had consistently higher pain scores than the non-phenol group (P less than 0.001). Possible reasons for these findings are discussed.