Babies who are teething are often inconsolable for days, even weeks while those little chompers cut through the gums. Many adults can also attest to the throbbing discomfort of a toothache. In either case, any sort of relief is a welcome sight.
The Food and Drug Administration warns both parents of teething babies and adults nursing a sore tooth to avoid over-the-counter remedies containing benzocaine unless under the supervision of a physician.
An active ingredient in drug store tooth and gum relief products, benzocaine can be found in products as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase.
According to the FDA, benzocaine gels and liquids may temporarily alleviate pain, but eventually cause much more problematic condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. In rare, severe cases, this condition can be fatal. The risk of developing methemoglobinemia is significantly higher in infants and toddlers under age 2. If left untreated or if treatment is delayed, methemoglobinemia may cause permanent injury to the brain and body tissues, and even death, from the insufficient amount of oxygen in the blood.
Since 2006, the FDA has received 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia, 19 of which were reported in children. Of those 19 cases, 15 occurred in children younger than 2.
Instead of using these products, the FDA suggests the tried and true remedies of giving the child a teething ring chilled in the refrigerator or gently rubbing or massaging the baby’s gums with your finger.
The symptoms of methemoglobinemia can be difficult to spot, so the FDA recommends parents and caregivers to avoid using the products on infants and toddlers unless recommended by a physician. Symptoms include pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds; shortness of breath, fatigues, confusion, headache, light-headedness, and rapid heart rate.
Parents who suspect their child is showing these symptoms should cease using the product and call their pediatrician or 911 immediately. Many patients of this condition require treatment with medications and admission to a hospital. Serious cases should be treated right away.
Though the risks are higher for young children, adults who use the products should also be wary, the FDA says. Benzocaine products are used by doctors and dentists in certain procedures such as intubations and endoscopy, but adults should be careful using them at home. Persons at the greatest risk include those with heart disease, smokers, or those with asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.
If you choose to use benzocaine products, the FDA advises consumers to:
- Store any products containing benzocaine out of the reach of children.
- Use benzocaine gels and liquids sparingly and only when needed. Do not use them more than four times a day.
- Talk to your health care professional before using these products.
-Follow Elise Rambaud Marrion, @emarrion_cmn.