Raise your hand if you’ve raced to the emergency room with a wailing kid for stitches or a broken bone. Too many of us have spent long hours at our kids’ bedside while they recuperate from surgery. Teething pain, ear-ache pain, growing pain, menstrual pain, sports injuries pain – ah, the joys of growing up. In today’s “wired world” moms are also managing psychological pain like depression and anxiety, which can be even tougher to see your child suffer through.
While our mama bear instinct is to bubble wrap our kids, the reality is no one escapes their first 18 years without experiencing pain. All we want is to keep the hurt away, right? But how are parents like us, with no medical background, supposed to know what to do when our kids are in pain?
The key to pain management is practicing the three P’s: Pharmacological, Physical, and Psychological. Here’s what you need to know to help reduce your kids’ (or your) pain based on the latest science.
An important part of a parents’ job is to advocate for our kids, making sure they’re being prescribed the right medications. According to the new science of pharmacogenetics, genetics play an important role in how each of us responds to different medications (whether they work well for us, whether we get side effects, etc.)
It’s scary to think that your child’s doctor could unknowingly be prescribing pain medication that your little guy may not respond well to. Based on their gene variants, some pills won’t do anything to take the pain away, while others can have terrible side effects. The last thing you need when your child is writhing in pain is a medication that isn’t working or is making things worse!
According to Jennifer Pastore, a licensed pharmacist in Ontario, medications used for both physical pain as well as psychological pain like depression or anxiety don’t work well in up to two-thirds of patients. This is why there’s so much “trial and error” involved in finding a treatment that works. Seriously, who has time for trial and error when their child is in pain? Even worse, some individuals have genes that cause unexpected side effects with these medications – some of them dangerous. But she has good news. Parents don’t have to feel powerless anymore. “Pharmacogenomic testing takes some of the 'guesswork' out of prescribing medication. The idea that each drug is "one size fits all" has been changed by genetic research. Health care professionals can now use information about your genetic makeup to choose the drugs and dosages that offer the greatest chance of helping you and your kids feel better.” This is why many children’s hospitals, including SickKids, offer pharmacogenetic testing to ensure kids get the right dose of the right medication that will help, not hurt them.
Consider investing in a ground-breaking DNA test from Inagene, an innovative Canadian company with expertise in pharmacogenetics. Talk about personalized medicine! This simple cheek swab test lists every pain and mental health-related medication to avoid or use based on your kid’s unique genes. The results become a roadmap and “genetic pain strategy”, so you and your doctor are empowered to manage your family’s pain with facts.
But pharmacogenetic testing isn’t just for your kids. More than 98% of us unknowingly inherited genes that will impact our response to common medications. Pharmacist Jennifer Pastore shared a pretty powerful example that all moms can relate to. “A mother who recently got tested and discovered that her body was unable to process the drug Fentanyl used in epidurals during labour, making it basically ineffective for her. When she got her test results she finally understood why, during her previous two births, she did not get any relief at all from her epidural! If she'd had access to this valuable information prior to her kids’ births, she could have been given an alternative effective medication that would have helped with her excruciating pain in labour. Luckily she now has access to this information for future birthing experiences!”
Head to the Pharmacy
Now that you know which meds work for your kid or you, follow this simple rule. If something hurts, take the right medication, as prescribed. Science says there’s no reason for your kids (or you) to ever have to “suck it up” and let it hurt. So, the next time your little gymnast breaks her wrist doing a triple flip, or your little warrior is recovering from surgery, stay ahead of the pain by dosing as prescribed rather than waiting for the medication to wear off and the pain to resurface. As Pastore says, “by getting ahead of pain you prevent the body from releasing all sorts of substances that make pain worse.”
Knowledge is power, especially when playing “whack-a-mole” with something invisible like pain. The last of the 3 P’s of pain management is an important one: Physical. Regular exercise can decrease pain significantly, in fact exercise releases hormones that have a “painkilling” effect, and create an overall feeling in the body that is similar to morphine! And here’s a bonus: Research has also shown that exercise really is the best medicine for psychological pain like anxiety and depression, releasing powerful hormones that elevate mood and calm nerves - yet another reason to keep kids off the screens and active.
Also, did you know that you feel less pain when you sit rather than lie down? Cool, right? Next time you bring your baby for a doctor’s visit, they’ll feel less pain if they’re being held upright rather than lying on the exam table. Bonus points if you nurse, or feed your baby sucrose during painful procedures, researchers discovered it hurts less. And finally, when taking your kids for immunizations, rub the area with an over the counter cream like Emla to numb the area. Distract them with bubbles, jokes, your phone. Getting needles CAN be a breeze!
Pain is physical, but pay attention to what’s going on in their head as well. Research shows that living with ongoing pain often leads to clinical anxiety and depression and untreated depression and anxiety actually make your kid’s physical pain worse. That’s why treating depression and anxiety is such an important part of managing pain. To translate: if we’re not on our game making sure our kids get effective treatment, there can be lasting effects.
And here’s another tidbit pain researchers have discovered. How we as parents deal with our own pain can shape how our kids react. So, when you take your kids to get a needle, stay cool. If injections freak you out, don’t flinch or faint. Or, when your ankle biter whines about a tummy ache, or your angsty teen whimpers about period pain, the most important thing you can do is believe them. Research tells us that kids don’t want to worry you and tend to hide it when it really hurts. If you suggest they’re faking, they may not let you know you when they’re hurting in the future, and no one wants THAT to happen.
On the flip side, if they say it still hurts - especially after taking medication – pay attention. Remember this statistic. Almost 99% of us carry at least one “gene variant” that will cause us to respond to medications differently than the doctor expected, and the majority of us have several of these variants.
Bottom line: Listen to the science. Test them. Advocate for them. Listen to them. Trust them. You’ve got this. No bubble wrap required.
Photo By: Vivek Kumar courtesy of Unsplash