Health officials warn of teething gel side effects

Lynette PayneMay 25, 2018

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging parents to avoid using numbing medicine for teething babies.

In addition to warning consumers this week, the FDA sent a letter (pdf) to companies that sell these products, request that they discontinue any lines marketed for teething relief.

The agency said Wednesday that various gels containing the drug benzocaine can cause rare but deadly side effects in children, especially those 2 years and younger.

Benzocaine is used in products to treat not just teething, but also sore throats, canker sores, and other oral irritations. "If companies do not comply, the FDA will initiate a regulatory action to remove these products from the market". In that statement, the FDA said it planned to monitor benzocaine products, and would update advisories as needed. Specifically, regulators say that these benzocaine-containing products may be associated with a scary condition called methemoglobinemia, "the result of elevated levels of methemoglobin in the blood [which] can lead to death" by sharply reducing the amount of oxygen carried through the blood. It can cause a blood condition linked to breathing problems.

The crying echoes through your house - your teething baby is miserable, and all you are wishing for is some peace for the both of you. Now it wants the teething product off the market.

For parents looking to relieve teething pain in their infants, the FDA referred to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a release there are "no demonstrated benefits" from the benzocaine products.

Signs and symptoms of methemoglobinemia include pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, and nail beds; dyspnea; fatigue; confusion; headache; lightheadedness; and tachycardia.

Wednesday's action comes more than four years after the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to stop sales of teething products. They're concerned about an ingredient - the drug benzocaine.

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia may begin within minutes and up to two hours after the first use of benzocaine.

These new directives may have parents wondering - what are they supposed to do with a teething baby?

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