FDA Warns About Dangers of Skin Numbing Products

A public health advisory has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about serious and potentially fatal side effects from the improper use of skin numbing products. These products, also known as topical anesthetics, are available over-the-counter or through a prescription.

Topical anesthetics desensitize nerve endings near the surface of the skin and contain drugs such as lidocaine, tetracaine, benzocaine and prilocaine. The skin numbing products come in the forms of cream, ointment and gel. According to the FDA, these products can be absorbed into the blood stream and if used improperly, may cause life-threatening side effects, including irregular heartbeat, seizures, breathing difficulties, coma or death. There have been two reports of deaths linked to topical anesthetics.

The FDA is recommending that patients who must use topical anesthetics should use products that have the lowest amount possible of medication needed to relieve pain. Consumers are also advised not to heavily apply topical anesthetic products over large areas of skin and to avoid wrapping the treated skin with plastic wrap or other dressing. In addition, consumers should not apply topical anesthetics to irritated or broken skin and shouldn’t apply heat from a heating pad to skin that has been treated with a skin numbing product.

Life-threatening side effects have been associated with using topical anesthetics before laser hair removal. It is believed that similar side effects could occur if topical anesthetics are used before a mammogram.

If you have experienced harmful side effects from a topical anesthetic, you can report it to the FDA’s MedWatch program at 800-FDA-1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm. You should also consider contacting an attorney.