Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

Recent advances: Paediatric anaesthesia

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 18 January 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:201
  1. S C S Russell, specialist registrara,
  2. E Doyle, consultanta
  1. a Department of Anaesthesia, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh EH9 1LF
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Doyle


    About one quarter of the population are aged under 15 years and many of them will require anaesthesia and surgery. Several recent developments have contributed to making anaesthesia for children easier, safer, and more pleasant for the child and parents.

    Topical cutaneous anaesthesia

    One of the most unpleasant procedures for children in hospital is insertion of a venous cannula for induction of anaesthesia, taking blood samples, or administering fluid and drugs. To try to reduce the pain associated with the procedure a topically active local anaesthetic preparation is applied such as Emla cream (a mixture of 2.5 mg/ml of lignocaine and 2.5 mg/ml of prilocaine). To work properly Emla cream has to be applied at least an hour before the procedure,1 2 which means it is not suitable for emergency and some day case patients. Even when applied for 60 minutes it is effective in only 65% of children,3 although this proportion rises if it is left in place for 90-120 minutes.4 Emla cream also causes vasoconstriction at the site of application, which can make venepuncture difficult.5

    The recent development and licensing of a topical cream made with the local anaesthetic amethocaine has greatly improved topical anaesthesia. Amethocaine has a much higher lipid solubility than Emla and penetrates the stratum corneum, the main barrier to absorption of drugs through the skin, with comparative ease. A gel containing 4% amethocaine has been shown to provide analgesia for venous cannulation in over 80% of children compared with 66% of children who had Emla cream applied for the same period.6 This makes amethocaine particularly useful in outpatient day case surgery. Amethocaine has also been found to cause erythema and vasodilatation at the site of application, …

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