A teething baby can be a serious pain, because they are actually in pain, and no parent wants to see that. Sadly, an FDA press report in 2012 robbed exhausted parents of one more option to relieve teething pain. Benzocaine, a numbing agent found in numerous over-the-counter infant teething gels such as Orajel, has been found unsafe for use in children; though it has not yet been banned in the US.
Why is benzocaine dangerous for infants?
Back in 2006, the FDA first issued a warning that benzocaine may lead to a rare but deadly disorder called methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder where the body accumulates an abnormal amount of hemoglobin, an blood oxygen carrying molecule. This over abundance of hemoglobin actually reduces the body's ability to carry oxygen to vital organs and tissue. Death can result.
According to the FDA, between the original warning in 2006 and now, there have been 29 reported deaths in children as a result of the use of over the counter teething relief products that contain benzocaine. The risk of death seems especially high in children under the age of two with 19 of the reported deaths being in this age range. Granted 29 reported deaths in six years seems a small calculated risk in light of how many parents turn to teething gel relief options each year, however, a small risk of death is a big risk to take when the bet involves your child's life.
What are the symptoms of methemoglobinemia?
Symptoms of methemoglobinemia tend to appear within minutes to hours of use. This means that parents that used over the counter teething gels prior to learning of their risk should not be concerned.
Symptoms would include signs of low blood oxygen levels including:
-Pale or bluish skin or lips
-Fatigue or excessive sleepiness
-Shortness of breathe
-Rapid heart beat
-Signs of head pain or light-headedness
If you use an over the counter teething gel for your baby's pain and witness any of these symptoms, please call 911. Damage from oxygen deprivation occurs quickly and is often permanent.
How can you safely relieve teething pain then?
Despite numbing gels being knocked out of the running, there are still ways to ease a teething baby's pain. As a parent I'd highly recommend Hyland's Homeopathic teething tablets. You can read a full review of their safety here. Offering your baby cold options to gum, such as teething rings or clean frozen dish rags can also help. While in my experience it leads to gnawed fingers and an annoyed baby, some parents also find gum massage works well.
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