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What Is EMLA?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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EMLA stands for Eutectic Mixture of Local Anesthetics and is used in the form of a cream to numb the skin for various medical procedures. EMLA cream contains equal parts of lidocaine and prilocaine, both of which are frequently used as local anesthetics. While EMLA cream can be used to decrease the discomfort associated with a variety of medical procedures, the most common use is to numb the skin of patients who must undergo repeated injections or needle sticks, as in the case of kidney dialysis. Some medications may interact with this type of local anesthetic, so the treating physician should be made aware of any medications which are being taken. Side effects are rare but may range from mild skin irritation to a severe allergic reaction.

Before applying EMLA cream, the area of skin to be treated should be thoroughly washed and dried. If there is any damage to the skin, including cracks or tears, this medication should not be applied. It is important to avoid getting this medication in the mouth, nose, or eyes, so hands should be washed immediately after applying the cream to the skin. If the medication is ingested, a poison control center should be contacted immediately.

Some medications may interfere with the effectiveness of EMLA cream and increase the risks of developing negative side effects. Some of these medications include over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen as well as a host of medications designed to treat high blood pressure or other cardiac issues. Some herbal medications may also interfere with this medication, so it is important for the patient to let the doctor know about any medications which are being taken.

Those with certain medical conditions may not be able to use EMLA cream. Patients with liver disease or who have recently suffered an injury to the eardrum may not be able to use this medication. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not encouraged to use this medication because of possible risks to the baby. Anyone who has had any type of allergic reaction to any substance, including medicines or foods, should only use this cream under close medical supervision.

Side effects are rare when using EMLA cream, although there may be mild to moderate skin irritation in some cases. Patients have reported a temporary burning sensation or redness on the affected area of skin. If there is significant redness and swelling accompanied by a rash, itching, or difficulty breathing, it may signify a severe allergic reaction. This occurrence should be treated as a medical emergency.

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