Pain after discharge following head and neck surgery in children

Paediatr Anaesth. 2016 Oct;26(10):992-1001. doi: 10.1111/pan.12974. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


Background: It is well established that children experience significant pain for a considerable period following adenotonsillectomy. Less is known, however, about pain following other common head and neck operations.

Aim: The aim of this study was to describe the severity and duration of postoperative pain experienced by children undergoing elective head and neck procedures (primary outcomes). Behavioral disturbance, nausea and vomiting, parental satisfaction, and medical reattendance rates were also measured (secondary outcomes).

Method: Parents of children (0-18 years) undergoing common head and neck operations were invited to participate. Pain scores on the day of surgery and each day post discharge were collected via multiple telephone interviews. Data collected included pain levels, analgesia prescribed and given, behavioral disturbance rates, and nausea and vomiting scores. Follow-up was continued until pain resolved.

Results: Two hundred and fifty-one patients were analyzed (50 adenoidectomy, 51 adenotonsillectomy, 19 myringoplasty, 52 myringotomy, 43 strabismus, and 36 tongue tie divisions). On the day of surgery myringoplasty, strabismus surgery, and adenotonsillectomy patients on average had moderate pain, whereas adenoidectomy, tongue tie, and myringotomy patients had mild pain. Adenotonsillectomy patients continued to have moderate pain for several days with pain lasting on average 9 days. From day 1 postoperatively mild pain was experienced in the other surgical groups with the average duration of pain varying from 1 to 3 days depending on the surgery performed. Frequency of behavioral issues closely followed pain scores for each group. Analgesic prescribing and regimes at home varied widely, both within and between the different surgical groups. Rates of nausea and vomiting following discharge were low in all groups. The overall unplanned medical reattendance rate was 16%.

Conclusion: Adenotonsillectomy patients represent the biggest challenge in postoperative pain management of the head and neck surgeries evaluated. The low rates of pain, nausea, and vomiting reported in the days following surgery for the other procedures suggests that children can be cared for at home with simple analgesia. Discharge information and analgesia prescribing on discharge should be tailored to the operation performed.

Keywords: acute pain; ambulatory care; analgesia; children; day surgery; outpatient; pediatric anesthesia; pediatrics.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoidectomy*
  • Adolescent
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Head / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neck / surgery*
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology*
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Tonsillectomy*