PEM Source

Your source for all things Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Tips and Tricks

Placing topical anesthetic (EMLA, LMX4) on skin abscesses may result in spontaneous drainage, precluding need for incision. If topical anesthetic doesn't result in spontaneous drainage, it at least provides some skin anesthesia prior to local anesthetic injection for incision and drainage procedure. In one published retrospective study, 26 of 110 patients with the topical anesthetic LMX4 placed had spontaneous drainage, 3 of whom required no further intervention:
Thanks to Tim Horeczko for tube-tape-tap mnemonic Peds Sizing  
What do you do if you have a patient with a tooth avulsion and no commercial periodontal dressing? You can use the flexible thin metal nasal bridge on an N95 mask and glue the reimplanted avulsed tooth to an adjacent tooth using 2-octocyanoacrylate skin adhesive (made for laceration repair). N95 maskN95 mask, See this discussed in an trick of the trade See more on tooth avulsion management from NCEMI Common Simple Emergencies
We all know the importance of lining up the two sides of a laceration that goes through the vermillion border of a lip laceration. Injecting lidocaine or swelling from the trauma itself can make this difficult. Use a skin marker to outline the the vermillion border on each side, making this easier. Vermillion border closing the gap This photo comes from this great tutorial on Closing the Gap For lip lacerations requiring repair beyond simple alignment, consult a plastic surgeon. Here is an interesting discussion on Plastic Surgery Key
The Katz extractor is a great tool for removing nasal foreign bodies, as shown on the video here (I have no financial interests in this product). But, if you don't have one available, get a Fogarty cardiac embolectomy catheter from the O.R., and this will do nicely as well. For many many tips and tricks on removing foreign bodies in the head and neck, go to PEMplaybook
A young girl comes in c/o dysuria and the urine is stone cold normal. What else can explain her symptoms? (BTW, you must do a GU exam at this point). Adhesions (labial) Bubble bath (and other soaps, irritants) Candida (particularly if recently on antibiotics, or at risk for new onset diabetes) Detergent (harsh laundry detergent, new tight clothing / underwear) Enterobius (aka pinworms) Foreign body (typically toilet paper) Gonorrhea & chlamydia (in sexually active or sexually abused) Hygiene, poor (teach girls to wipe front to back, consider having them sit on toilet backwards to urinate, especially if they are overweight/obese, to encourage complete voiding and keep urine from collecting in vagina) Irritation (masturbation is a common normal behavior in preschoolers)
Easily remember the approximate Oxygen-Hemoglobin dissociation curve as follows: PaO2 40 corresponds to SaO2 70% PaO2 50 corresponds to SaO2 80% PaO2 60 corresponds to SaO2 90% This rule along with a lot of other handy RT knowledge can be found here Read more about PaO2 vs SaO2 at here
For minor procedures in the PED, analgesia, anxiolysis, and distraction are the most important therapies to promote cooperation and procedural success. See our algorithm for procedural pain here. But sometimes, even with all of those, physical restraint is needed. Most PEM practitioners know how to wrap a child up using a simple bedsheet folded lengthwise twice, and then wrapped over one arm, behind the back, and over the other arm, and then around the child as seen here. Another technique if you have a pillowcase is to put both arms behind the child into a pillowcase and then lay the child down onto the pillowcase, thus restraining the arms (see picture below). (This technique was published under the colorful name "Superhero Cape Burrito" here). Finally, a c-collar can be useful to immobilize the head for face and scalp laceration repairs. pillowcase-restraint
Mucosal atomizer devices improve administration of intranasal medications. Intranasal fentanyl 1.5 mcg/kg is a great way to give stronger pain medication (eg for fractures) without placing an IV. Intranasal midazolam 0.2 mg/kg (use concentrated 5mg/mL form to keep total volume < 1mL per nostril) can be used to treat active seizures when no IV access is yet obtained, or as an anxiolytic for procedures. Intranasal naloxone at a standard dose of 4 mg is being provided to opiate addicts to use in case of overdose. A commercial device is available, but currently some lots are being recalled (check here for recalled lots), or you may simply not have one in stock. Here's how to make an improvised atomizer courtesy of Faisal Alghamdi of KFMC Riyadh. Hook up a 3 way stopcock with the lever turned so that all 3 ports are open to 1) a 14 or 16 gauge angiocath, 2) a syringe with the medication you wish to deliver, and 3) oxygen tubing. Hook the other end of the oxygen tubing up to oxygen and turn up to 5-10 L/min. Place the angiocath in the nostril and gently & slowly depress the plunger of the medication. See picture and video below. img_1123 Click here to see a video and compare to commercial device here
You're seeing a 5 day old with a fever of 39. Attempts to get IV access have been unsuccessful. The child is alert and not toxic appearing, but you'd like to get empiric antibiotics started within the first hour of evaluation. What are your options other than drilling with an IO or embarking on a potentially long sweaty frustrating attempt at a central line in a neonate? An ultrasound-guided peripheral line is one possibility if you have the skills. Another vascular access method to keep in mind is the umbilical venous line - the umbilical vein can stay patent up to 7-10 days of life! Soak the dry cord in saline soaked gauze to soften it, use a scalpel to cut straight across at 1-2cm from the base, look for the single large vein, insert a pre-flushed catheter with gentle pressure into the vein while pulling back on a syringe until you see a flash of blood. For more info: The "Fast-cath" technique advocates using a 14 gauge angiocath Find resources for born out of asepsis babies on our algorithms page, including how to make umbilical venous catheter mini kits to keep in your ED.
Use a glass test tube or specimen tube to press on a rash to see if it blanches - remember, petechiae and purpura don't blanch. You can also use a glass test tube as a mini-anoscope to blanch surrounding mucosa and assist in identifying anal fissures in infants. (Anal fissures are one of the many possible causes of GI bleeding in children - check out's latest podcast on GI bleeding) glass_test-focus-none-width-800 (From  
Check out these cuties that CHOC PED physician and former Harbor PEM fellow Seth Brindis makes! See below for step-by-step instructions and more ideas for toys to make with medical supplies. Tongue Depressor Puppets Here are instructions put together by Seth, and a video of them in action. And here are some more ideas for toys to make in the PED (thanks to former Harbor PEM fellow Casey Buitenhuys for the glowstick idea): make-your-own-toys
What can you do if your patient is maxed out on ondansetron but still feels nauseated? A recent study in Annals EM found a positive treatment effect of deeply inhaling from a standard isopropyl alcohol pad held 2.5 cm from the patient's nose. Patients inhaled for 60 seconds at 0, 2, and 4 minutes (stopping if nausea resolved), and nausea was rated up to time 10 minutes. (Caveat: this study enrolled only adults). A 2012 Cochrane review also found isopropyl alcohol inhalation beneficial, although less so than standard antiemetic medications. Also, anecdotally, for dehydrated patients, rehydration and resolution of ketosis is thought to improve nausea and vomiting. For the grammar police out there, clarification of nauseated vs nauseous can be found here
Measure your fingernails to see which is closest to 1cm - now you will always have a 1cm "ruler" with which to measure lesions, lacerations, discolorations, etc. Measure nail  
Use a sterile saline respiratory ampule: wet the fluorescein strip with the saline, squeeze out half of the saline, then suck the yellow fluorescein liquid back up into the ampule. Now you can use the ampule as an eyedropper. For uncooperative kids, lay them supine and squeeze the liquid into the medial corner of the closed eye - when they open their eyes it will run into the eye. Respiratory Ampules ( For additional methods, see AliEM's great tricks of the trade post at:
Cut a narrow caliber ETT short to create a semi-rigid suction catheter for foreign body removal of the nose or ears.  (From EM News September 2009, Tricks of the Trade: An Improvised, Semi-Rigid, Nasal/Aural Suction Catheter, by Timothy McGuirk DO)
For a forhead laceration, place gauze over patient's eye and hairline, cut a hole in center of a large tegaderm, peel and stick with the laceration positioned in the middle of the hole. Now you can use tissue adhesive to close the laceration without worrying about the adhesive running into the patient's eye, hair, or down the face.
Explain to parents - colds are called colds because viruses thrive in cold temperatures, so fevers are the body's natural way to fight off the cold
Use a laryngoscope upside down as a tongue blade, or use a self-lighting pelvic exam speculum (remove top half of the speculum)

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