A randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study was undertaken in 111 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years to assess the efficacy of EMLA 5% cream in the alleviation of venepuncture pain at intravenous induction of general anaesthesia using 27-gauge needles. Pain assessment was made by an operating department assistant using both verbal rating scale and visual analogue scale methods. Seventy-five children, of whom 24 were premedicated, were treated with EMLA cream and 36 with placebo, 14 of whom were premedicated. Significantly lower pain scores were recorded in the children treated with EMLA cream (verbal rating scale: premedicated p less than 0.05, unpremedicated p less than 0.001; visual analogue scale: premedicated p less than 0.0005, unpremedicated p less than 0.0002). No variation in analgesia was found for application times between 30 and 300 minutes and there were no serious side effects.