Benzocaine is used during surgical procedures and can be found over-the-counter to relieve pain. It is a local anesthetic, and works by blocking nerve signals in the body. It is used in a variety of ways to relieve pain or discomfort caused my minor skin irritations. It is used by doctors to numb pain inside of the mouth, nose, throat, vagina, or rectum to reduce the pain of inserting a medical instrument such as a tube or speculum. People use benzocaine over-the-counter to help sore throats, sunburn, teething pain, vaginal or rectal irritation, ingrown toenails and hemorrhoids.
There has recently been a great deal of evidence linking benzocaine, in the spray and gel forms, to the condition called methemoglobinemia—a rare blood disorder that is potentially fatal. In infants, this condition is called “blue baby” disorder and can be fatal as well.
Methemoglobinemia occurs when the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood stream is reduced. When this occurs in babies, they may take on a bluish color, thus dubbing the condition “blue baby” disorder. Their skin does this because of the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can include a severe lack of color in the skin, bluish discoloration, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and rapid heart rate. In the most severe cases, this can result in death.
Benzocaine can be found in the following products:
- Baby Orajel
Less serious side effects may include:
- Mild stinging, burning, or itching where the medicine is applied
- Skin tenderness or redness
- Dry white flakes where the medicine was applied
- Serious side effects may include:
- Fast heart rate
- Feeling light-headed or short of breath
- Pale, blue, or gray appearance of your skin, lips, or fingernails
- Headache, weakness, dizziness, breathing problems, or fast heart rate
- Severe burning, stinging, or sensitivity where the medicine is applied
- Swelling, warmth, or redness
- Oozing, blistering, or any signs of infection