It’s quite common for parents, especially mothers, to use medications to help out when babies start to teethe. When the pain is too much for a mother to bear, her inclination is to reach for something to soothe those sore gums and stop the pain. A new consumer update released by the Food and Drug Administration says babies and benzocaine – an ingredient found in many over-the-counter pain gels and liquids – don’t mix. Benzocaine is a local anesthetic found in products like Anbesol, Orajel & Baby Orajel, Orabase and Hurricaine. According to the FDA, using benzocaine products to stop mouth and gum pain can cause a rare and sometimes fatal condition called methemoglobinemia.
Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder where the oxygen that’s carried through the blood to the tissue drops to dangerously low levels. It can cause death in severe cases. The FDA first sounded the alarm on these products in 2006. Since then there have been 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia. According to Kellie Taylor, an FDA pharmacist, 19 of those cases were in children, with 15 of the 19 involving children under the age of two.
The FDA issued another warning in 2011. Some of the symptoms to look for include pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and fingernail beds, shortness of breath, headache, light-headedness and rapid heart rate. Another FDA Pharmacist, Mary Ghods, had this to say about benozcaine use:
Symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benozcaine use. They can occur after using the drug for the first time, as well as after several uses.
If a child experiences any of these symptoms after using these products, Ms. Ghods recommends seeking medical help immediately. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, giving a child a chilled teething ring or gently massaging their gums with a finger are alternative ways to treat teething discomfort.
But it should be noted that it’s not just children who are affected. Adults who smoke, those with heart disease or respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, are at increased risk of complications of methemoglobinemia. The FDA advises that consumers who have these products in their home must store them out of the reach of children. The agency also says to use products with benzocaine only when necessary – and then no more than four times a day. That seems to be good advice.
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