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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Palliative Care 1/2018

Intranasal fentanyl for respiratory distress in children and adolescents with life-limiting conditions

BMC Palliative Care > Ausgabe 1/2018
Lucas Pieper, Julia Wager, Boris Zernikow



Respiratory distress is one of the most common and frightening symptoms of children with life-limiting conditions. Because treatment of the underlying cause is frequently impossible or insufficient, in many children, symptomatic treatment is warranted. The purpose of this study was to describe the circumstances of the use of intranasal fentanyl in an acute attack of respiratory distress (AARD) in children receiving palliative care, as well as to describe outcomes and adverse events after its use.


Children and adolescents treated in a pediatric palliative unit or attended by a specialized home care team between 2010 and 2016 were included in this study. A retrospective chart review was conducted of those who were treated with intranasal fentanyl for an AARD.


During the study period 16 children (0.5–18.6 years) with various life-limiting conditions were treated with intranasal fentanyl for AARD. In total, 70 AARDs were analyzed. In 74% of all AARDs, a single dose of intranasal fentanyl was used. Frequent causes for an AARD were excessive secretions and acute respiratory infection. The median starting dose of intranasal fentanyl was 1.5 μg/kg body weight. Labored breathing (96%), tachypnea (79%) and related suffering (97%) improved after treatment. An adverse event occurred in one child.


Intranasal fentanyl may be a safe and effective medication for the treatment of acute attacks of respiratory distress in children with life-limiting conditions. However, prospective studies with larger sample sizes and a control group are needed to validate these findings.
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