The effect of the topical application of a lignocaine-prilocaine cream (EMLA) on the pain of venous cannulation was tested in a double-blind manner. Sixty boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 10 yr who were to undergo surgery participated in the study. No analgesic premedication was given and the venous cannulation was performed during the preparation for general anaesthesia. Pain was assessed by the anaesthetist and the patient using a verbal rating scale and two different pictorial scales. The effect of EMLA in the alleviation of the pain of venous cannulation was considered significantly better than placebo by both anaesthetist (P less than 0.001) and patient (P less than 0.05) (verbal scales). One conventional pictorial scale showed a statistically significant difference (P less than 0.05), but the other, based on facial expressions, did not. Local reactions to the cream were minor and transient in both groups.