Benzocaine is a local, over-the-counter anesthetic in popular numbing agents, such as Anbesol, Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabase and Hurricane. The FDA is now renewing its initial 2006 warning that the use of benzocaine products by children –especially those under two years of age—may lead to a potentially fatal condition called methemoglobinemia.
In methemoglobinemia, the oxygen carried through the bloodstream is greatly reduced, thereby causing a host of systemic failures. Unfortunately, the symptoms of methemoglobinemia may be missed or mistaken for other conditions. Common symptoms include: pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds; shortness of breath; fatigue; confusion; headache; light-headedness; and rapid heart rate. The onset of symptoms spans from minutes to hours following benzocaine use, and may not occur after the initial application.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that, in lieu of benzocaine, teething children may find comfort in a teething ring chilled in the refrigerator or through simple massaging of the gums.