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Popular Baltic Amber Necklaces Pose Choking Hazard for Teething Babies

Oct 11, 2013

An alternative treatment is being deployed in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and, increasingly, the United States to help alleviate the teething pain suffered by infants and toddlers – however, concern about whether the treatment is effective has been overshadowed by the apprehension that it may pose a choking hazard. So reports The New York Times on its Well blog.

This treatment is the so-called Baltic amber necklace, which the infant or toddler wears around the neck and gnaws on at will. The claim is that, once the baby’s body temperature warms the necklace, it frees the amber to supposedly release a pain-relieving substance that is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. But, as the Times notes, there is no evidence to support these claims – and a larger concern “is the significant suffocation hazard posed by the teething necklaces, particularly if children are left unattended.”

Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Mo., who has blogged about amber necklaces and the potential danger they present, told the Times that the necklaces actually present two distinct risks: strangulation and choking. “And that’s not only for these teething necklaces,” she says. “In general practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend that infants wear any jewelry.”

In 2010, Health Canada, the country’s department of public health, issued a safety warning highlighting the strangulation risk. And despite the popularity of the necklaces in Europe, France and Switzerland both banned pharmacies from selling them.

The Times notes that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suffocation is the leading cause of death for babies one year old and younger, and among the top five causes of death for children ages 1 through 4.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends several remedies for teething pain that don’t present potential safety hazards, the Times reports, such as a gentle gum massage and things that are cold but also soft enough to be gummed, like rubber teething rings (which should never be given frozen to a baby).

For strong pain, acetaminophen (Tylenol), in the appropriate dose, is one option, the Times notes, adding that anesthetic gels and liquids containing benzocaine, such as Orajel and Anbesol, should not be administered to children younger than 2.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Times points out, has issued a warning that benzocaine can sometimes cause a rare and dangerous condition called methemoglobinemia, which arises when the oxygen level in the bloodstream is dangerously low, causing such symptoms as pale skin and lips, fatigue, confusion, headache and elevated heart rate.

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