FDA Says Benzocaine Products Unsafe for Teething Babies

U.S. health regulators have again warned that benzocaine is not a safe remedy for teething babies.  According to a report from Health Day News, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that benzocaine gels and liquids can lead to a rare but potentially deadly blood condition called methemoglobinemia, especially in children under 2.

Methemoglobinemia occurs when the amount of oxygen in the blood is greatly reduced.  The FDA first warned about the effects of benzocaine in 2006.  But since that initial warning, the agency has received reports of 29 new cases where methemoglobinemia occurred due to gels that had benzocaine, mostly in children under two.

Benzocaine is used in products sold under the names Anbesol, Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabase and Hurricane.  According to Health Day News, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents avoid using benzocaine products to treat teething babies, and instead give a child a teething ring chilled in the refrigerator, or use a finger to gently rub or massage the child’s gums.  The FDA has cautioned that parents should check the labels of any teething remedy for benzocaine before they use it  on their baby.

According to the FDA, symptoms of methemoglobinemia can be difficult to discern.  Parents and caregivers should seek medical attention if their child exhibits the following symptoms:

•    pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds
•    shortness of breath
•    fatigue
•    confusion
•    headache
•    light-headedness
•    rapid heart rate.

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can occur minutes or hours after benzocaine use.  If a child experiences any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately.

The FDA has also cautioned adults who smoke, as well as those who have asthma, bronchitis, or heart disease, to avoid benzocaine products, as these conditions can increase the risk of methemoglobinemia.  Other adults should not use benzocaine more than four times per day.  All benzocaine gels, sprays or liquids should be kept out of reach of children.

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