The Danger of Benzocaine in Teething Medications: Hot Topic Tuesday Blog Hop

The Hot Topic Tuesday prompt of the week is “Over-the-counter medications that contain benzocaine such as Baby Orajel are safe to give to babies for teething pain.”

BenzocaineI had never really given much thought to teething medications such as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase. My husband and I believe that taking as little medication as possible is the best course of action. For our daughter, too, we will be giving her medication only when absolutely necessary. We do not run to the medicine cabinet at the slightest hint of trouble. Instead, we wait until absolutely necessary such as a high fever (Tylenol) or breathing difficulties (albuterol, antihistamines). As far as teething medications go, I always thought that such products were a little silly and quite a bit unnecessary. I had no idea until recently that benzocaine, the active ingredient in many teething medications, can also be harmful.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), children under the age of two should not be given medications that include benzocaine because of a rare but serious and sometimes fatal condition called methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia is a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, headache, light-headedness, and rapid heart rate. Severe cases of methemoglobinemia can result in permanent injury to the brain and body tissues and even death. Children who are younger than two years old are at greatest risk for developing methemoglobinemia.

Benzocaine is the active ingredient in teething medications such as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase. Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that reduces teething pain by numbing the mouth. Although effective, however, parents are urged not to use benzocaine-containing products on children younger than two years old because of the risk of methemoglobinemia.

Even before learning that teething products such as Baby Orajel are dangerous for babies, my husband and I had already decided not to medicate our daughter. Instead, we will give her cold teething rings and wet wash clothes to chew on. We will give her a variety of textures to gnaw on to relieve the pain from teething. If she develops a really high fever as a result of teething, then we might consider giving her some Tylenol (although Tylenol use has been linked to an increased risk of asthma). However, we will not be giving her any teething medications that contain benzocaine. The risk is just too high.

What do you think about benzocaine and teething medications for infants? Share a link to your post. Please also share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ after you share your link. Although not required, for some good comment karma, visit the three links in front of your posting.

Next week’s Hot Topic Tuesday subject: Should doctors always prescribe antibiotics for ear infections?

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Benzocaine and babies: Not a good mix:
Methemoglobinemia linked to topical benzocaine use:

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Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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