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20 Oct 2019 12:04
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  •   Home > News > International

    Woman's blood turns inky blue after using numbing agent for toothache

    US doctors describe how a 25-year-old woman had dark, inky blood and a blue hue to her skin after trying to numb the pain of a toothache.


    US doctors have described how a 25-year-old woman ended up with dark, inky blood and a blue hue to her skin after trying to numb the pain of a toothache.

    The woman went to the emergency department in Providence, Rhode Island, complaining of shortness of breath and fatigue.

    Doctors noted the woman appeared "cyanotic", the medical term for blue and grey discolouration of the skin.

    It was discovered that she had taken "large amounts" of topical benzocaine, an over-the-counter medication, to treat a toothache.

    But the medication prompted a negative reaction and she was eventually diagnosed with a condition called methemoglobinemia.

    It was a case rare enough for doctors Otis Warren and Benjamin Blackwood to describe it in an edition of the New England Journal of Medicine published this week.

    'One of those rare cases'

    "Methemoglobinemia can occur after exposure to a number of medications, including topical anaesthetic agents such as benzocaine, through metabolic pathways that appear to vary from person to person, which may account for the unpredictability of this complication," the doctors wrote.

    The condition sees an increased production of methemoglobin, meaning not enough oxygen is carried around in the blood.

    Extra methemoglobin gives the blood a dark tinge, typically of a chocolatey colour, according to a 2011 medical journal.

    But the condition can also see the blood go dark red and blue, according to OpenAesthesia.org, and this dark, inky blood is what gave the woman her blue tinge

    Dr Warren told CNN he had only seen the case once before in his career.

    "It's one of those rare cases that we're taught about, you study for, you take tests on, but you rarely ever see," he said.

    The woman was given two doses of a medication called methylene blue and was monitored overnight.

    Her colouration returned to normal and doctors discharged her with a dental referral.

    Thought everyone's blood was blue? Wrong

    The notion that our blood is blue until it is exposed to air is a myth, chemistry professor Igor Lednev and PhD student Marisia Fikiet wrote in a piece for The Conversation.

    "The bluish colour of veins is only an optical illusion," they wrote.

    "Blue light does not penetrate as far into tissue as red light.

    "If the blood vessel is sufficiently deep, your eyes see more blue than red reflected light due to the blood's partial absorption of red wavelengths."


    ABC




    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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