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Benzocaine gels for teething pain pose life-threatening health risks

Filed June 4th, 2012 Laurie

Using topical analgesics with benzocaine to alleviate a baby’s teething pains could lead to serious complications and possibly death.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning late last week on the risk of methemoglobinemia associated with using products like Anbesol or Orajel to alleviate the pain of teething. Methemoglobinemia can lead to oxygen deprivation and serious cases of it can cause death.

The FDA worries because these products contain benzocaine and misuse of the products could cause unexpected dangers parents are prepared to handle. The agency has issued several warnings in recent years on the dangers of these products, specifically those marketed for infant use. Several leading brands of teething products containing benzocaine include Hurricaine, Baby Orajel, Orabase, Orajel, and Anbesol.

Teething generally occurs prior to a child’s second birthday and their tolerance for benzocaine is low. In 2006, the FDA reported that it had received at least 29 reports of benzocaine-induced methemoglobinemia, and most from children under the age of 2.

In its most recent warning, the FDA highlights the symptoms of methemoglobinemia that likely are caused by these teething products: pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, headache, light-headedness, and rapid heart rate.

Rather than using these products, the FDA recommends using a teething ring and if that doesn’t work, massage a child’s gums with a finger.

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