What is it?
First Aid

What is benzocaine?

Benzocaine is a medication used to numb or treat pain. It is found in many over-the-counter products. The label on the product can tell you whether it contains benzocaine. Some examples are:

  • Baby chews on a teething ringTeething rings are one alternative to using
    medications with benzocaine.

    Throat lozenges and sprays, such Cepacol

  • Medications for mouth pain, including some teething medications, such as Anbesol and Orajel
  • Anti-itching skin creams and sprays, such as Lanacane

Products with benzocaine are safe for most people when you follow the directions on the label or from your doctor.

Young children, and some adults, who swallow benzocaine are at risk for methemoglobinemia, a rare but serious illness in which not enough oxygen is carried in the blood. Because of this, the FDA does not recommend giving benzocaine to children 2 and younger, unless it recommended by a health care professional.

What happens if you swallow benzocaine?

Most people who swallow benzocaine are fine.

However, swallowing even a small amount can cause methemoglobinemia, and young children are especially at risk. Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can include:

  • Bluish-gray skin around the lips, ears and nails
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache

In severe cases, someone with methemoglobinemia can have seizures or go into a coma.

It can take just a few minutes or several hours for methemoglobinemia to appear.

Always call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 if a child swallows benzocaine.

What should I do if someone has swallowed benzocaine?

If a young child has swallowed benzocaine, or if you are concerned, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online orĀ text POISON to 85511. We will help you figure out if the child needs to go to the hospital or can be treated at home.

If someone has passed out or is not breathing, call 911 right away.


How can you prevent methemoglobinemia?

The FDA recommends not giving benzocaine products to children under 2 because of the risk of methemoglobinemia.

Keep benzocaine products up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.

If your child is teething, see our related blog post with suggestions to help sooth their pain.

Last Updated: Friday March 4th 2016