Topical Pain Relievers Side Effects

January 14, 2013

If you’ve ever rubbed a topical pain reliever—a cream, gel or other product applied to the skin—on a sore muscle or joint, you’re familiar with the sensation of warmth or coolness that soon follows.

But if, instead, you experience burning pain or blistering, you must seek medical attention immediately.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that some consumers have reported receiving serious skin injuries while using certain over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers applied to the skin to relieve mild muscle and joint pain.

The injuries, while rare, have ranged from mild to severe chemical burns with use of such brand-name topical muscle and joint pain relievers as Icy Hot, Bengay, Capzasin, Flexall, and Mentholatum.

OTC topical pain medications for muscles and joints include creams, lotions, ointments and patches. In many cases, burns where the product was applied occurred after just one application, with severe burning or blistering occurring within 24 hours. Some had complications serious enough to require hospitalization.

Do’s and Don’ts

FDA has the following advice for consumers using OTC topical muscle and joint pain relievers:

  • Don’t apply these products onto damaged or irritated skin.
  • Don’t apply bandages to the area where you’ve applied a topical muscle and joint pain reliever.
  • Don’t apply heat to the area in the form of heating pads, hot water bottles or lamps. Doing so increases the risk of serious burns.
  • Don’t allow these products to come in contact with eyes and mucous membranes (such as the skin inside your nose, mouth or genitals).
  • It’s normal for these products to produce a warming or cooling sensation where you’ve applied them. But if you feel actual pain after applying them, look for signs of blistering or burning. If you see any of these signs, stop using the product and seek medical attention.
  • If you have any concerns about using one of these products, talk to a medical professional first.
  • Report unexpected side effects from the use of OTC topical pain reliever to the FDA MedWatch program
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