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Comfort, Critical care, Symptom management, Symptom relieve, Thirst



  1. Clark, Jenny MSc
  2. Archer, Sally K. PhD


Purpose: The aim of this study was to review the scope and quality of evidence for thirst treatment in adult acute care.


Methods: A systematic review was completed by 2 independent reviewers using MEDLINE, PubMed, BNI, EMBASE, EMCARE, and CINAHL databases and additional hand searching in June 2020. Interventions to relieve thirst for inpatients receiving acute care were included. Evidence was appraised against the levels of evidence for therapeutic studies, and a risk-of-bias assessment was completed for included studies. Outcomes are presented via narrative synthesis. Meta-analysis was planned.


Results: Four studies (out of 844) were eligible reporting thirst outcomes from 611 critical care patients. Meta-analysis could not be completed because a priori criteria were not met. Two randomized controlled trials represented the highest level of evidence. Thirst assessment was completed via a self-reported scale in all reviewed works. Interventions included cold water sprays or swabs, menthol lip moisturizer, and use of humidification. Three works demonstrate reduced thirst scores; all interventions in these studies exploit cooling effects to the oropharynx with the aim of preabsorptive satiation of thirst. A humidified oxygen circuit showed a neutral response when compared with a nonhumidified circuit.


Conclusions: There is a limited but growing evidence base related to thirst treatment in the acute setting. Studies using a "bundle" of topical interventions incorporating cooling and menthol treatments showed positive effects in reducing symptom burden. Work to explore the scope of application for thirst treatment for patients unable to self-report, consideration of sustained effects, and a study of individual versus combined effects of bundle elements would be welcomed as the evidence base continues to develop.