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FDA warns about benzocaine in baby pain gels
June 1st, 2012
12:15 PM ET

FDA warns about benzocaine in baby pain gels

When your baby begins to teethe and the pain is too much for you both to bear, your inclination is to reach for something to soothe those sore gums. But a new consumer update released by the Food and Drug Administration says babies and benzocaine–an ingredient found in many over the counter pain gels and liquids–don't mix.

Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that's in products like Anbesol, Orajel & Baby Orajel, Orabase and Hurricaine. The FDA says using benzocaine products to stop mouth and gum pain can cause a rare and sometimes fatal condition called methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder where the oxygen that's carried through the blood to the tissue drops to dangerously low levels. In severe cases it can cause death.

The FDA first sounded the alarm on these products in 2006. Since then there have been 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia. FDA pharmacist Kellie Taylor says 19 of those cases were in children, 15 of those 19 were children under the age of 2.

The agency issued another warning in 2011. Some of the symptoms to look for include pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and fingernail beds, shortness of breath, headache, light-headedness and rapid heart rate.

"Symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benozcaine use," says FDA Pharmacist Mary Ghods said. "They can occur after using the drug for the first time, as well as after several uses."

If your child experiences any of these symptoms after using these products Ghods recommends seeking medical help immediately.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics giving your child a chilled teething ring or gently massaging their gums with your finger are alternative ways to treat teething discomfort.

But it's not just children that are affected. Adults who smoke, those with heart disease or respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis or emphysema are at increased risk of complications of methemoglobinemia.

The FDA advises that consumers who have these products store them out of their child's reach and use products with benzocaine only when necessary - and then no more than four times a day.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.