April 19, 2011 – Health Canada has issued a warning to remind parents and caregivers of the possible dangers of using topical benzocaine products. Topical applications of benzocaine are used to easy pain and can result in moderate to life-threatening health conditions.
Uses and Products for Topical Benzocaine
Benzocaine is used to control pain and can be found in many different formulations. You can buy benzocaine over-the-counter as a spray, gel, liquid and creams. Often, benzocaine products are used to treat sore throats, teething, toothaches, canker sores, burns, insect bites, itching and hemorrhoids. Healthcare practitioners will also use topical benzocaine during surgical procedures, dental procedures and other medical procedures to numb the mouth and throat.
Health Risks of Topical Benzocaine
Moderate to serious side effects of using topical benzocaine are problems breathing or swallowing, swollen tongue or mouth, irregular heartbeat, malaise, body twitching, hypersensitivity, burning, redness, itching and rash.
Another rare but life threatening health risk is the development of methemoglobinemia (MetHb). MetHb is a blood conditions that reduces the ability of red blood cells to deliver oxygen through the body. Symptoms of MetHb are:
- pale or blue-grey skin on lips or nail beds
- shortness of breath
- change of heart rate
Symptoms may appear shortly after exposure to benzocaine or a couple of hours later. In some instances, MetHb can progress to stupor, coma and even death.
Babies and Infants Using Benzocaine
Parents and caregivers are warned to use caution when considering use of benzocaine products for their babies, infants and children. While pain caused by teething and other common illnesses are uncomfortable for your young one, the severity of side effects from benzocaine can be worse.
Products like Orajel that contain benzocaine, are designed to numb the gums however, if baby swallows the gel (which often happens) it will numb their throat and may interfere with babies ability to swallow, gag and breathe.
If you experience any of the above-mentioned side effects after using a product containing benzocaine, seek medical assistance.