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What is Lidocaine?

Diana Bocco
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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®.

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Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Mar 07, 2013

@anon35124-- All pain relievers have side effects in the long term. I'm not sure about lidocaine's toxicity on the liver. But pain relievers are usually broken down in the liver and then pass through the kidneys and then are removed from the body in urine.

Long-term use might cause problems with the liver and kidneys. That's why lidocaine and similar pain relievers say in the description that people with kidney disease should not use them.

By SarahGen — On Mar 06, 2013

@anon172589-- You should consult another doctor. I'm not a health practitioner but I think you might have a lidocaine allergy, although the effects of that would have probably disappeared by now. Perhaps there was another problem with the lidocaine injection or the injection site.

See another doctor as soon as possible and you might want to avoid lidocaine in the future in case you do have an allergy.

By discographer — On Mar 05, 2013

I have chronic back pain and I've been trying to find the most effective ointment or cream that I can use regularly. I tried several different kinds over-the-counter, but I think that lidocaine gel and cream works the best.

I believe even surgeons use lidocaine gel to numb skin prior to surgery. It's good stuff.

By ZipLine — On Feb 17, 2013

@anon304177-- I think it depends on what type it is.

I do know that topical lidocaine is available over the counter. I'm not sure if tablets are though.

Injections would most certainly have to be performed by a doctor at a hospital setting.

By ddljohn — On Feb 17, 2013

Can I use lidocaine cream on piles?

By fBoyle — On Feb 16, 2013

I try to avoid using pain relievers as much as possible. The only one I do use is lidocaine. I use it as a topical ointment when I have a burn or an insect bite.

I have extremely sensitive skin and can have mild allergic reactions to bug bites and bee bites. Bug bites are extremely painful for me. The pain and swelling from a bug bite can last for weeks and lidocaine is the only thing that helps.

By anon304177 — On Nov 18, 2012

Can you buy a bottle without a prescription?

By anon172589 — On May 04, 2011

I recently had an in growing nail on my big right toe and had an operation to cut the nail that was growing in the flesh on the big toe. However, i feel the doctor made an error. As soon as he injected the toe, i was in great pain for 10 mins after which he applied another drug. After days my toe was burned and according to my doctor he said i reacted to lidocaine.

Please advise me. It's now three months and my toe has not yet healed due to the wound caused.

By anon151870 — On Feb 11, 2011

I get Lidocaine via IV for neuropathic pain. I find it works very well. I usually renew the IV every 4-5 weeks.


By BoatHugger — On Jul 15, 2010

I thought that I would add that there are other uses for lidocaine as well. Lidocaine is used as a local anesthetic for topical administration or local injection into the skin. Some nurses now inject lidocaine into the hand before starting an IV to reduce the pain.

It is also used as an antiarrhythmic in the prehospital field. When a patient goes into ventricular fibrillation, lidocaine is administered to counteract it.

By anon35124 — On Jul 02, 2009

should lidocaine be used on a long term basis and what are the side effects if this happens

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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