NEW YORK - Maybe watching TV isn't always bad for kids. According to a new study, preschoolers were less anxious about having their warts removed if they watched their favorite TV show or movie right before the procedure.
Cryotherapy, a common technique used to freeze warts off, involves applying liquid nitrogen to the skin every week or two. It can be an uncomfortable and sometimes painful procedure, causing a lot of distress in young children -- who often have to be coaxed or restrained during wart removal, researchers said.
"In the clinics, children crying and screaming is not an uncommon scene and this affects everyone in the clinic," Dr. Hong Liang Tey, who led the study at Singapore's National Skin Center, told Reuters Health in an email.
Studies have suggested distracting anxious kids with toys, books and handheld video games can help them get through medical procedures. Tey's team wanted to see if a TV show or movie could be a useful alternative.
With handheld devices like iPads and tablets so widely available, this is something parents can now do themselves, Tey said.
For the new study, the researchers measured anxiety levels in 35 kids, age two to six, as they went through the wart removal procedure with or without the help of a video.
In the video group, two- to four-year-olds watched Barney and five- and six-year-olds watched the movie Kung Fu Panda.
Thirteen youngsters had wart removal done while the videos played and 15 went through the procedure without TV or movies. Another seven kids experienced the treatment both with and without videos.
To measure anxiety, the researchers watched children before wart removal began -- and one minute into video viewing, for some -- and noted how active and curious or clingy they acted.
According to the findings, published in the Archives of Dermatology, all 15 children without video access were described as "highly anxious" before their treatment, based on their scores on an anxiety rating scale. In comparison, five out of the13 kids who watched videos were described as highly anxious.
The researchers also found it took slightly less time to complete the wart-removal treatment when kids were distracted by the video: about 12 minutes, compared to 15 minutes in kids without a video. But that difference could have been due to chance.
Anxiety scores were also lower after video-watching in the seven kids who had procedures with and without the help of Barney and Kung Fu Panda.
Using videos to lower anxiety is a good idea, but the findings are not really new or surprising, according to Dr. Anuradha Patel, a pediatric anesthesiologist at New Jersey Medical School in Newark, who studies preoperative anxiety in kids and was not involved in the study.
A lot of children's hospitals have videos and video games, she said.
Video players like those used in the study typically cost about $200.
The study is limited by its small size, Patel said. And it's hard to say whether the results were affected by some kids coping better with the procedure after they had gone through a number of treatments.
Patel also said using the anxiety scale when kids are already distracted could lead to inaccurate results.
But finding a way to ease anxiety in children without using medication is important, she added -- and holding kids down and letting them scream is not good for their psychological well-being.
"We chose cryotherapy for viral warts to study as this is a very commonly-performed procedure. The results can be extrapolated to various medical procedures in children, dermatological and non-dermatological," said Tey.
"It does show that doctors, even in a busy outpatient office, should still consider the needs of the child," Patel said. "It's very simple, now there are all these smartphones, and there are apps, like Angry Birds, that you can use to distract children."