The condition can occur when benzocaine is used either as a spray used during medical procedures to numb the mouth and throat, or as over-the-counter gels and liquids used to relieve pain from conditions such as teething and canker sores.
Methemoglobinemia is a condition in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. In severe cases, methemoglobinemia can result in death.
According to Drugs.com:
"Methemoglobinemia has been reported with all strengths of benzocaine gels and liquids, and cases occurred mainly in children aged two years or younger who were treated with benzocaine gel for teething."
This will probably come as a surprise to most people, but it's just another example of how all drugs have potentially serious side effects—even those sold without a prescription and/or used topically as opposed to being swallowed.
The Potentially Lethal Side-Effect of Benzocaine
Benzocaine is a local anesthetic commonly used as a topical pain reliever. You can also find it in cough drops, throat sprays, and gels or liquids used for teething and canker sores (cold sores).
However, you need to be careful when using these products, especially on children. The FDA is now sounding the alarm as they continue receiving reports of methemoglobinemia, which is a potentially life threatening side effect of the drug.
This side effect has been reported with all strengths of benzocaine gels and liquids, including a single dose of benzocaine throat spray. They're now advising against the use of benzocaine products on children under the age of two, as most of the cases included infants given teething gel containing benzocaine.
Methemoglobinemia is a condition in which the amount of oxygen in your blood stream is greatly reduced. In severe cases, it can result in death.
Signs and symptoms of this severe adverse reaction include:
Pale, gray or blue colored skin, lips, and nail beds Headache Lightheadedness Shortness of breath
Rapid heart rate Fatigue
Symptoms can appear at any point, either after the initial or any subsequent application, but usually become apparent within minutes to hours of application.
No one likes pain, and when an infant is teething, a parent will do just about anything to relieve their discomfort. However, it's important to realize the potential dangers in reaching for a drug as the first line of defense.
Over-the-counter benzocaine products are typically used for pain associated with cuts and scrapes, sore throats, canker sores, and teething, and there are far safer alternatives to treat all of these discomforts.
Ice—a Natural Pain Reliever
For pain due to cuts, scrapes and bruises, as well as teething, ice is your friend.
I recommend keeping hot & cold packs at home so you have them the moment you need them, because ice should be applied as soon as possible to reduce swelling and thwart inflammation.
Hot and cold packs are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes, to accommodate various parts of your body, such as wrists, arms, knees and elbows.
How to Help Relieve Teething Discomfort
For teething, you do NOT want your baby to chew on liquid-filled ice packs as they might break. Instead, get a teething ring that can be cooled in the fridge. Just check the label and make sure it doesn't contain harmful chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA).
Another alternative is to lightly dampen a clean wash cloth made of organic materials, then place it into the fridge or freezer. Once cooled, your baby can safely chew on that. For more "bulk," simply tie a knot at the end, or fold it a few times.
A Natural Remedy for Sore Throats
Instead of using a benzocaine-laced throat spray, you can soothe your sore throat with raw honey. Honey has long been used as a natural remedy for sore throats and coughs, and modern research has confirmed that honey is such a potent anti-infection/anti-inflammatory product it can rival antibiotics.
A common natural cure for a sore throat is tea with honey and lemon.
The main thing to remember when it comes to honey is that not all honey is created equal. The antibacterial activity in some honeys is 100 times more powerful than in others! Processed, refined honey is NOT appropriate as it does not impart the same health benefits as raw honey when consumed.
Another caveat is that you don't want to give honey to children under the age of two as botulism can occur due to the child's immature immune system if the honey is contaminated.
Additionally, keep in mind that honey, if not consumed in moderation, will increase your insulin and leptin levels and can lead to poor health. So avoid using it for chronic conditions. If you or your child tend to get frequent colds, coughs, sore throats or flu, please understand that this is a sign of a poorly functioning immune system. If that's the case, then you really need to stop treating the symptoms and focus on healing the underlying cause.
For guidelines on how to address more chronic cold and flu ailments, please review this previous article.
Raw Honey for Wound Care
Manuka honey in particular can also be applied topically to wounds, in lieu of wound-care creams containing benzocaine or lidocaine. It's anti-viral, anti-bacterial properties will allow the wound to heal faster, which will reduce associated pain.
Good quality raw honey, such as Manuka, offers several topical wound-care benefits:
- It draws fluid away from your wound
- The high sugar content suppresses microorganism growth
- Worker bees secrete an enzyme (glucose oxidase) into the nectar, which then releases low levels of hydrogen peroxide when the honey makes contact with your wound
- A chemical reaction between the honey and tissue also makes healing wounds smell good
Getting to the Root of Canker/Cold Sores
Canker sores, also known as cold sores, are painful ulcerations that typically occur inside your mouth, inside your cheek, or sometimes even on your tongue. This is another common use for benzocaine-containing gels.
However, if you're suffering from recurring cold sores, please understand that they are NOT caused by a viral infection, but rather due to an autoimmune problem. They're typically a reaction to either chocolate, citrus, or wheat, so avoiding these foods can help you end the problem once and for all.
Keep in mind that cold sores are frequently mistaken for herpes sores, but using anti-herpes approaches for canker sores will simply not work. To learn more about the differences between the two, please see this previous article.
The Best Pain Reliever Doesn't Come in a Tube or a Jar
For pain in general, regardless of where it hurts, one of the best remedies is neither applied topically nor ingested. Instead, the gentle process of tapping certain spots on your face and body with your fingertips can help alleviate the physical pain you feel. This process is known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Some of our biggest EFT enthusiasts are people who have used this gentle, safe and easy-to-administer technique to minimize their suffering from pain.
EFT is a procedure that borrows from the much-heralded discoveries of Albert Einstein that everything, including your body, is composed of energy, AND from the ancient wisdom of Chinese acupuncture. In essence, EFT is an emotional version of acupuncture except that needles are not required. Instead, certain release points are stimulated by tapping them with your fingertips.
One of the reasons why it works on physical pain is because your emotions can have as powerful an effect on pain as any opioid, if not more so. By resolving the underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that might be exacerbating your physical pain, you can get profound relief.
A classic example of this is the work of Dr. John Sarno, a physician who focuses on treating patients with severe recalcitrant low back pain whose surgeries had failed to give them any relief. Still, in this very difficult-to-treat group, he was getting over 80 percent improvements simply by addressing the emotional element of the pain.
EFT also helps you balance out your subtle energy system, which in and of itself tends to dissipate pain.
Best of all, the basics of EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied (usually in minutes). I would encourage you to learn more about EFT and try it out on whatever ails you. You just may be surprised by what you'll find.
If your pain is acute, such as a cut or scrape, reach for an ice pack first. However, if you tend to suffer more chronic forms of pain, the following two supplements may help:
- Cetyl Myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I have used this for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that pops up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards. I used a topical preparation for this with really surprisingly good results.
- Cayenne Cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
Always Report Drug Side-Effects!
Last but not least, if you experience any side effects from using benzocaine-containing products, please report it to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.
You can either:
- Complete and submit the report Online: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report.htm
- Download form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the pre-addressed form, or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178
Reporting any and all side-effects of any drugs you use is very important, as it's really the only way we can get the FDA to take notice, and issue precautions that can save lives.