Sugar Soothes Kids' Immunization Pain

Study Shows Sugar Solution for Infants Relieves Pain of Vaccination Shots

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 04, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 4, 2008 -- A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down in some unexpected ways. A new study suggests sugar may prevent childhood immunization pain.

Researchers found babies given a dose of sugar solution before their immunization shots experienced less pain than those given a placebo.

Current immunization schedules call for children to receive up to 24 immunization shots before their second birthday and as many as five during a single visit. Despite the proven benefits of immunizations, some parents are reluctant to follow the immunization schedule due to fears about the pain caused by the shots.

"Reluctance to adhere to the recommended immunization schedule may be partially explained by parental perception that their children endure a substantial amount of pain during routine immunizations: almost twice the amount they hypothesize an adult undergoing a similar injection would experience," write Linda A. Hatfield, PhD, CNNP, of the Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine and colleagues.

Sugar Soothes Shot Pain

In the study, researchers examined the pain-relieving effects of giving healthy 2-and 4-month old infants a small dose of sugar solution (sucrose) before their regularly scheduled immunizations.

One hundred infants were randomly given either the sugar solution or plain water through a syringe and then given a pacifier two minutes prior to their immunization shots; researchers evaluated their pain on a standard scale.

The factors used for measuring pain in the infants included crying, facial expressions, body movement, and behavior.

The results showed both the 2- and 4-month old infants experienced less pain than those given the placebo two, five, seven, and nine minutes later. The sugar and placebo groups experienced the most pain at seven minutes with an average pain score of 3.8 and 4.8, respectively.

After nine minutes, the placebo group had a 79% difference in average pain score compared with the sucrose group.

Researchers say the study shows that sucrose may be an inexpensive, short-acting, nondrowsy, and easily administered way of reducing the pain of childhood immunizations and other minor medical procedures.