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What is Benzocaine?

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  • Written By: K. K. Lowen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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Benzocaine is a widely used local anesthetic. Unlike a general anesthetic that effects the entire body, a local anesthetic desensitizes a specific area of the body. The drug is frequently used in a range of externally applied, over-the-counter products used to numb different areas of the body. It functions by obstructing the entrance of sodium into nerve endings, halting the sensation of pain.

Local anesthetic has a variety of uses, but chief among them is its use in non-prescription medications and ointments that help decrease minor pain. People apply the over-the-counter remedies directly to various body surfaces, such as irritated or sunburned skin. Oral uses are also common and can be helpful for mouth or teeth pain. Some people use the medication as a treatment for hemorrhoids or to relieve rectal and vaginal discomfort. Medical offices and hospitals also utilize benzocaine during procedures that require the insertion of a medical instrument into the body.

This drug is sometimes combined with antipyrine to make a substance called phenazone. Antipyrine has painkilling properties that compliment the numbing effect of benzocaine. This combination of medications is a common treatment for ear infections, and may aid in the removal of buildups of cerumen, commonly known as earwax. The medication is usually available as a liquid, and is applied to the ear via drops.

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There are an assortment of side effects related to benzocaine. Allergic reactions are relatively common, and patients should seek the assistance of a medical professional following any adverse occurrence. Indications of an allergic reaction include an intense burning sensation, swelling, blistering, general discomfort, and nausea. Researchers also believe that this drug is a contributing factor to the development of a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. Patients who already have methemoglobinemia should not use any benzocaine products.

Patients should always follow the treatment methods on the package or as directed by a doctor. Using too much benzocaine can be harmful because the body may absorb too much of the drug. If the body absorbs high levels of it, an overdose could occur. Symptoms of an overdose may include breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, or seizures, and extremely high levels can lead to a coma or death. Patients should use the smallest amount of medication possible to avoid unwanted complications.

The drug may have purposes beyond medical applications. Some manufacturers have added benzocaine to condoms to desensitize the penis and counteract premature ejaculation. Some people have used the drug for illicit activities as well. Cocaine dealers have mixed it into their product to increase the overall weight of their products.

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