The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns parents that commonly-used over-the-counter medications containing benzocaine for teething babies may lead to a rare but potentially fatal medical condition known as methemoglobinemia, a medical condition where the amount of oxygen carried by the blood is greatly reduced. Benzocaine, which is a local anesthetic that may be rubbed on the gums of teething babies to relieve teething pain, is found in common over-the-counter medications such as Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabase, Anbesol, and Hurricaine.
Since the FDA first issued its warning in 2006, there have been 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia reported to the FDA, of which 19 of the reported cases involved children and 15 of the 19 cases involved children who were less than 2 years of age. The FDA re-issued its warning in April, 2011. The FDA recommends that products that contain benzocaine not be used in children under 2 unless under the advice and supervision of an appropriate health care provider.
Symptoms Of Methemoglobinemia
Symptoms of methemoglobinemia may occur within minutes or hours after use of products containing benzocaine and may occur after the first time a benzocaine-containing product is used or after several uses. Symptoms of methemoglobinemia may include pale, grey, or blue-colored skin, lips, and the beds of nails; shortness of breath; fatigue; confusion; headache; light-headedness; and/or rapid heart rate. While many of these symptoms may be due to many different causes or conditions, if benzocaine-containing products were recently used, serious cases should be treated immediately because delayed treatment may result in permanent brain injury or even death due to the lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood.
In adults, the use of benzocaine-containing products in the form of sprays, gels, liquids, and lozenges used by dentists and physicians to numb mucous membranes of the mouth and throat for medical procedures such as endoscopies, intubations, placement of feeding tubes, and transesophageal echocardiograms can put adults at greater risk for complications related to methemoglobinemia if they are smokers, have heart disease, or have breathing problems as a result of emphysema, asthma, or bronchitis.
What are some alternatives for parents of teething babies to relieve their babies’ pain and discomfort? The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a teething ring chilled in a refrigerator and/or parents can gently rub or massage the babies’ gums with their finger.
All medications come with some risks. Most people will never experience an adverse effect from the use of their medications but others may suffer the risks when their medications are changed, other medications are added or discharged (stopped), or dosages are changed. Any change in your symptoms or medical condition after a change in your medication should be promptly brought to the attention of the appropriate health care provider. If a symptom or reaction to medication worsens or changes in a manner that raises imminent concern for safety or well-being, a trip to the emergency room may be warranted (better safe than sorry!).
If you or a family member have suffered a severe reaction or complication from your medication(s), you may wish to have a local medical malpractice attorney research whether someone may be liable to you for your resulting injuries and losses.
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