Virtual reality headsets can be used to help distract children from the fear, anxiety and pain of getting a vaccination, scientists say.
Needle phobia is one of the most common fears among children who receive vaccines and are exposed to needles on numerous occasions throughout their childhood.
This causes many children fear, anxiety and pain. In some cases, needle phobia and needle anxiety may even cause parents to delay scheduled visits with the doctor.
A pediatrician has come up with an innovative solution to distract children from their fear, anxiety and pain using a virtual reality headset. He is the first to conduct a pilot study, published in the journal Pain Management, using this technique in a pediatric setting.
Chad Rudnick from Florida Atlantic University in the US got the idea for the study from an 8-year-old patient who came to his office with a virtual reality headset.
The child placed the goggles on his head as Rudnick proceeded to give him an injection. Much to Rudnick’s delight, the child didn’t even flinch.
“That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head. It got me thinking whether this outcome was just a one-time incident or whether it would work again,” said Rudnick.
Prior research has theorized that humans have a limited capacity for attention and therefore if a person is attending to another stimulus away from noxious stimulus, they will perceive the painful stimulus as less severe.
To date, no studies have looked at virtual reality distraction during pediatric immunisations, so Rudnick decided to put his theory to the test.
The objective of the study was to test the feasibility, efficiency and usefulness of using virtual reality headsets as a means to decrease fear and pain associated with immunisations in pediatric patients.
The study focused on fear and pain, both anticipated and actual as reported by the child and their caregiver.
For the study, Rudnick used a 3D virtual reality headset and a smartphone app that was inserted into the goggles giving the children the choice of a roller coaster ride, a helicopter ride or a hot-air balloon ride.
Once the virtual reality headset was in place, Rudnick administered a single injection and kept the headset on until 30 seconds after the immunisation.
Study participants ages 6 to 17 completed a pre- and post-questionnaire evaluating fear. Parents or guardians also completed a questionnaire assessing their parental perception of fear and pain using the same scales.
Results of the study showed that anticipated versus actual pain and fear were reduced in 94.1 per cent of the pediatric study subjects. In addition, 94.1 per cent of the pediatric study subjects reported that they would like to use virtual reality headsets again for their next immunisation.
Parents of the study subjects also reported lower perception of pain and fear in their child following the use of virtual reality headsets.