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Understanding Allergic Reactions To Local Anesthetic

Allergic reactions to local anesthetic are somewhat rare, as the compounds have been developed over the years to contain substances that don't cause bad reactions. With that said, some people do experience an allergic response to these substances, so it's important that you understand what causes the reaction and what can be done to help you.  

How Do You Know if You're Allergic to Local Anesthetic?

The symptoms of local anesthetic allergy are very similar to many other allergies (such as peanuts or pineapple). The local anesthetic acts as an allergen that causes your body to enter a hypersensitive state. While in this state, the body puts up defensive barriers to stop further exposure to the allergen. These defensive barriers show themselves as symptoms, and include:

  • Rashes, itching or inflammation of the skin.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Breathing difficulty and a flushing of the face.
  • Swelling of the tongue and cheeks.  
  • Anaphylactic shock.

The most dangerous of the above is anaphylactic shock. This is a full body response to the allergen which can be potentially life threatening. However, cases of anaphylactic shock due to local anesthetic are extremely rare and dentists are well prepared to treat the response.

What Causes the Allergy?

Within any local anesthetic injection, there are two active compounds at work – the numbing agent and epinephrine. The numbing agent is the actual anesthetic that blocks the nerve passages leading from the point of injection.  This stops the brain from interpreting the dental procedures from being painful and so stops you from feeling any discomfort during your visit to the dentist.

The epinephrine is a compound which is added to make the anesthetic work for a longer time. Additionally, it helps improve the efficiency of the numbing agent so that you only need small dosages. Epinephrine also narrows your blood vessels around the treated area, which stops your mouth from bleeding profusely during your procedure.

These two compounds are always used together, so if you are allergic to local anesthetic then you are allergic to either novocain or epinephrine. The options available to work around the allergy vary, so it's important to know which specific agent is causing your body trouble.

What Can You do if You're Allergic to Epinephrine?

This is the most straightforward case to treat, and is also the most common. Epinephrine is a preservative that is used on fruit and vegetables to stop them from rotting quickly, so you probably know by now if you are allergic to the substance.

If you are allergic to preservatives, let your dentist at a place like Claremont Dental Institute know well in advance. There are many alterations your dentist can make to allow you to go numb, the most common of which is using an anesthetic without epinephrine. Thankfully, there are many preservatives available that can be used in place of epinephrine. These will help you to get through your procedure pain-free, while ensuring you don't need a large dosage of anesthetic to cope with pain. 

What Can You do if You're Allergic to Novocain?

Novocain is a blanket term used in medical circles to refer to the numbing agent present in anesthetics. However, the term itself is slightly inaccurate as there are a number of "cains" that can be used to provide localized numbing of tissue. As such, your first option would be to try another "cain" in the local anesthetic which would hopefully allow you to go numb.

If you allergic to other numbing agents, then you may require general anesthesia. General anesthesia is the form of sedation given to patients who require surgery. The anesthetic slows the heart down and causes you to fall unconscious and unable to experience pain. Dentists are unable to administer general anesthesia, so your procedure would have to be carried out within a hospital.