Topical anesthetic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A topical anesthetic is a local anesthetic that is used to numb the surface of a body part. They can be used to numb any area of the skin as well as the front of the eyeball, the inside of the nose, ear or throat, the anus and the genital area.[1] Topical anesthetics are available in creams, ointments, aerosols, sprays, lotions, and jellies. Examples include benzocaine, butamben, dibucaine, lidocaine, oxybuprocaine, pramoxine, proxymetacaine (proparacaine), and tetracaine (also named amethocaine).[citation needed]


Topical anesthetics are used to relieve pain and itching caused by conditions such as sunburn or other minor burns, insect bites or stings, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and minor cuts and scratches.[2]

Topical anesthetics are used in ophthalmology and optometry to numb the surface of the eye (the outermost layers of the cornea and conjunctiva) to:

  • Perform a contact/applanation tonometry.
  • Perform a Schirmer's test (The Schirmer's test is sometimes used with a topical eye anesthetic, sometimes without. The use of a topical anesthetic might impede the reliability of the Schirmer's test and should be avoided if possible.).
  • Remove small foreign objects from the uppermost layer of the cornea or conjunctiva. The deeper and the larger a foreign object which should be removed lies within the cornea and the more complicated it is to remove it, the more drops of topical anesthetic are necessary prior to the removal of the foreign object to numb the surface of the eye with enough intensity and duration.

In dentistry, topical anesthetics are used to numb oral tissue before administering a dental local anesthetic due to the entry of the needle into the soft tissues of the oral cavity.[3]

Some topical anesthetics (e.g. oxybuprocaine) are also used in otolaryngology.

Topical anesthetics are now commonly used in the temporary relief of premature ejaculation when applied to the glans (head) of the penis. Benzocaine or lidocaine are typically used for this purpose as they are available as over-the-counter drugs.

Abuse when used for ocular pain relief[edit]

When used excessively, topical anesthetics can cause severe and irreversible damage to corneal tissues[4][5][6][7][8] and even loss of the eye.[9] The abuse of topical anesthetics often creates challenges for correct diagnosis in that it is a relatively uncommon entity that may initially present as a chronic keratitis, masquerading as acanthamoeba keratitis or other infectious keratitis.[4][5][7][9][10] When a keratitis is unresponsive to treatment and associated with strong ocular pain, topical anesthetic abuse should be considered,[7] and a history of psychiatric disorders and other substance abuse have been implicated as important factors in the diagnosis.[4][9][10] Because of the potential for abuse, clinicians have been warned about the possibility of theft and advised against prescribing topical anesthetics for therapeutic purposes.[5][9]

Some patients who have eye pain, which is often considerably strong neuropathic pain caused by the irritation of the nerves within the cornea and/or conjunctiva, try to illegally obtain oxybuprocaine or other eye anesthetics (for example by stealing them at their ophthalmologist or optometrist, by forging medical prescriptions or by trying to order it via an online pharmacy) and use the substance to numb their eye pain, often ending up with irreversible corneal damage or even destruction (which is a vicious cycle and causes more pain). Often, such patients finally require corneal transplantation.

In case of prolonged or chronic eye pain, especially neuropathic eye pain, it is highly advisable to use centrally acting substances like anticonvulsants (pregabalin, gabapentin and in more serious cases carbamazepine) or antidepressants (for example SSRIs or the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline). Even very small amounts of an anticonvulsant and/or an antidepressant can almost completely stop eye pain and does not damage the eye at all.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2005-11-26. Retrieved 2006-03-30.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Local Anesthesia for the Dental Hygienist, Logothetis, Elsevier, 2012
  4. ^ a b c Pharmakakis NM, Katsimpris JM, Melachrinou MP, Koliopoulos JX (2002). "Corneal complications following abuse of topical anesthetics". Eur J Ophthalmol. 12 (5): 373–8. doi:10.1177/112067210201200505. PMID 12474918. S2CID 196168539.
  5. ^ a b c Varga JH, Rubinfeld RS, Wolf TC, et al. (July 1997). "Topical anesthetic abuse ring keratitis: report of four cases". Cornea. 16 (4): 424–9. doi:10.1097/00003226-199707000-00009. PMID 9220240.
  6. ^ Chern KC, Meisler DM, Wilhelmus KR, Jones DB, Stern GA, Lowder CY (January 1996). "Corneal anesthetic abuse and Candida keratitis". Ophthalmology. 103 (1): 37–40. doi:10.1016/s0161-6420(96)30735-5. PMID 8628558.
  7. ^ a b c Ardjomand N, Faschinger C, Haller-Schober EM, Scarpatetti M, Faulborn J (November 2002). "[A clinico-pathological case report of necrotizing ulcerating keratopathy due to topical anaesthetic abuse]". Ophthalmologe (in German). 99 (11): 872–5. doi:10.1007/s00347-002-0623-z. PMID 12430041. S2CID 20724555.
  8. ^ Chen HT, Chen KH, Hsu WM (July 2004). "Toxic keratopathy associated with abuse of low-dose anesthetic: a case report". Cornea. 23 (5): 527–9. doi:10.1097/01.ico.0000114127.63670.06. PMID 15220742. S2CID 1836290.
  9. ^ a b c d Rosenwasser GO, Holland S, Pflugfelder SC, et al. (August 1990). "Topical anesthetic abuse". Ophthalmology. 97 (8): 967–72. doi:10.1016/s0161-6420(90)32458-2. PMID 2402423.
  10. ^ a b Sun MH, Huang SC, Chen TL, Tsai RJ (June 2000). "Topical ocular anesthetic abuse: case report". Chang Gung Med J. 23 (6): 377–81. PMID 10958042.

External links[edit]