In the United States alone, 250,000 children are burn-injured each year. Of course, a burn injury hurts when it happens, but it also hurts during dressing changes. To relieve the pain, doctors often use opioids, but worst case, kids could get addicted to the painkillers.
Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in the United States have tested another method. They let the admitted children play a game in a virtual world (VR environment). The game, Virtual River Cruise, is specially developed to provide the best possible relief for those with burns.
"Two factors were considered for the game's design. The first factor was a snow, cooling environment within the game. The second factor was cognitive processing to encourage active engagement." says Henry Xiang, professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital and one of the researchers behind the study, in a press release.
To test the game, the researchers let 30 pediatric patients play the game while a nurse did a dressing change. A control group watched the same environment in VR, but without doing anything active themselves, and a third group played with physical toys instead.
The result was that the children who played the VR game reported the least pain when asked to rate it on a scale. The nurses were also satisfied with the treatment. Previous attempts has included computer games, but that of course requires a computer, and it's been proven unpractical to let the child play on the computer while receiving care.
The VR game runs on a regular mobile and as the game reduced pain and is easy to use for both patients and carers, the researchers hope that it can also be used outside hospitals.
"Pediatric burn patients still need dressing changes at home after hospital discharge, and these changes could be very painful," says Henry Xiang.
The study shows that VR games have a pain-relieving effect. The researchers will now look into if its possible to reduce the use of opiods and rely more on the game.
Read the full study here. Image: Pixabay / Prashant Sharma