The study of 43 Swedish children with cancer found that children given midazolam in a nasal spray suffered less anxiety than those given a placebo, according to the study in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Although the drug was tested only on children with cancer, researchers said it could be used to ease anxiety in youngsters facing procedures for other medical problems.
"It's interesting for children who are very much afraid, where you otherwise would have to hold them down to carry through the procedure or immunization or whatever," said the lead author, Dr. Gustaf Ljungman. He is a pediatric oncologist at Uppsala University Children's Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden.
The main drawback to the spray, Ljungman said, is that some children feel a burning sensation. He said his hospital has begun giving the drug by mouth, but that the nasal spray takes effect faster.
Previous studies have shown that children often feel more pain from the treatments and procedures they must go through than they do from the cancer itself.
The nasal spray studied does not reduce pain, but the authors found it did reduce children's anxiety considerably.
In the study, children, nurses and parents were given a questionnaire to evaluate their experiences with midazolam or the placebo, and the procedure that followed. Older children filled out the form themselves. Children who did not understand the questions were helped by a nurse not present during the procedure.
Parents, children and nurses all reported that the children taking the medication were calmer and more comfortable during the procedures that followed than the children who took the placebo.