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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 18:01 GMT
Laughter eases hospital pain
Laughing girls
Sometimes laughter can release tension
The old adage "laughter is the best medicine" has proved its worth among children coping with pain, research suggests.

Medical experts in the USA found laughter helped children relax, which had a major impact on how they dealt with and accepted pain.

They believe the healing power of humour can reduce pain and stimulate immune function in children with cancer, Aids or diabetes and in children receiving organ transplants and bone marrow treatments.

Their study reinforces practices adopted by UK hospitals, where laughter is used as a tool to make hospital wards a friendlier place.

Laughter is such a good tool, if you can make someone laugh and forget the pain, it's a bonus

Sylvia Buckingham, child health expert
Dr Margaret Stuber, who led the US research, said: "We think laughter could be used to help children who are undergoing painful procedures or who suffer from pain-expectation anxiety."

"In the future, patients watching humorous videos could become a standard component of some medical procedures."

The US study, Rx Laughter, is a collaboration between the entertainment industry, paediatrics and psychiatry.

They asked 21 children aged eight to 14 to put their hand into cold water and found the whole group tolerated the temperature longer while watching a funny video.

Those who laughed most remembered less of the pain and hormone tests on their saliva showed their stress levels were lower after laughing.

Clown doctors

Dr Stuber said: "Rx Laughter's goal is to ease ill children through some of these medical procedures and minimise the traumatic effects that children experience.

"In some instances laughter may even reduce the amount of anaesthesia necessary."

Hospitals in the UK have recognised the power of laughter and some use "clown doctors" to go into children's wards and inject a bit of fun.

The clown doctors are provided by The Theodora Children's Trust charity and entertain children on a one-to-one basis.

Theodora director Joanie Speers said: "The clowns are not doctors or therapists, but very well trained artists.

"Their job is simple, but they have a very big impact.

"Some of these children are so traumatised they don't want to know.

"The clown doctors get them to laugh and they respond better."

Distraction therapy

The team of 10 clown doctors visit about 30,000 children and their families every year at hospitals in London, Manchester and Cambridge.

The clown doctors' role is endorsed by Sylvia Buckingham, principal lecturer in child health at London's South Bank University.

She said: "They make children laugh. It can be used as distraction therapy.

"When the clown doctors are there, the children can relax and know it's going to be fun.

"Laughter is such a good tool, if you can make someone laugh and forget the pain, it's a bonus."

Humorous videos, especially cartoons, are already used in anaesthetic rooms at Manchester Children's Hospital.

They have found the videos help the children relax before going into theatre.

Frances Binns, a therapeutic play consultant at Manchester Children's Hospital said: "Laughter and humour come out as a way of helping children cope with pain.

"I call it the balloon syndrome, to put a little bit of air in to help everyone relax."

See also:

27 Sep 01 | Health
Mysteries of laughter revealed
15 Nov 00 | Health
Laughter 'protects the heart'
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