Posted by Fiona Cole on May 11, 2011
The Food and Drug Administration has released a warning regarding the use of benzocaine for young children. Benzocaine is the main ingredient in liquid and gel products sold over-the-counter to alleviate teething pain. The FDA report warns that benzocaine has been linked to a rare but serious illness called methemoglobinemia, a condition which leads to severely reduced oxygen levels in the bloodstream. Methemoglobinemia can be a life-threatening illness.
The FDA warns that methemoglobinemia has been associated with all levels of benzocaine content in liquid and gel products, including products containing as low as 7.5 percent concentrations. The FDA also states that most cases of the illness have been reported in toddlers, aged 2 or less, who were given a gel product to alleviate teething discomfort.
Benzocaine liquids and gels are mainly used to reduce teething pain, but they are also used to treat canker sores and mouth and gum irritations. These products are sold under various brand names, including Hurricaine, Anbesol, Orabase, Orajel, Baby Orajel and other store brands. Benzocaine also appears in lozenges and spray solutions.
According to the FDA, the signs of a benzocaine reaction usually develop within minutes to hours following use. Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can include a gray or pale complexion, shortness of breath, confusion, fatigue, light-headedness and a rapid heart rate. In the event of a reaction, immediate medical attention should be sought.
The FDA report warns that products containing benzocaine should not be given to children under the age of two, unless they are being supervised by a medical professional. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of a teething ring instead, which can be chilled in a refrigerator to increase the soothing effect. Parents can also rub their child’s gums with their finger to help alleviate discomfort.
Warnings about the risks of methemoglobinemia have not yet been written on the labels of products containing benzocaine.