Lidocaine, pronounced LYE-doe-kane, is a local or topical anesthetic that can be applied to the skin or to mucous membranes to reduce the immediate feeling of pain and produce numbness. Lidocaine has been in the market since 1948, and is available over the counter, which means no doctor prescription is needed to buy it or use it. Lidocaine is used for a variety of medical conditions, and is often one of the drugs included in first-aid kits in the form of a combination antibiotic/pain relieving cream. Sprays for treating sunburn, insect bites, or poison ivy often include lidocaine as the main ingredient. Lidocaine gel is often used in dental procedures as a way of numbing the area before applying an injection, or to reduce pain after the procedure is finished.
Lidocaine works by blocking the pain signal sent by the nerve endings on the skin. When applied to the affected area, a feeling of numbness follows after 20-30 seconds; depending on the strength of the drug, the effect may last from 30 minutes to several hours. Lidocaine is not intended for internal use, so it should be applied carefully in mucous membranes. For example, using a cotton swab is the best way to apply just the right amount to numb the feeling of pain on a tooth or in an area in the gums. For larger areas, a dentist may prescribe lidocaine oral cavity patches, which can be left on for hours without need for a reapplication or change.
Despite being sold freely, lidocaine is a powerful drug, and the risk for overdosing is high. Always keep the drug out of the reach of children and pets, even in the case of used patches that seem to have no residue of the chemical left. Symptoms of overdose include nausea or vomiting, chest pain, shaking or seizures, swelling of the tongue, blurred or double vision, and decreased breathing. Always apply lidocaine in the smallest dose possible to numb the pain, and consult your doctor or pharmacist if the drug doesn't produce the desired effect. Some of the best-known brand names for lidocaine include: Bactine®, Dermaflex®, Solarcaine®, Xylocaine® 10% Oral, and Zilactin-L®.