If you’ve ever suffered from a painful tooth or sore gums, chances are you’ve probably taken a simple over-the-counter treatment and didn’t think too much about it. Well, a woman in Rhode Island turned blue, literally, after taking medicine for her toothache. According to NBC News, the 25-year-old woman went to the emergency room after she woke up complaining of weakness and noticed that her skin had turned a Smurf-like shade. When the doctors drew her blood, they noticed it had also become dark blue. The cause of all this? Methemoglobinemia.
Methemoglobinemia happens when not enough oxygen gets to your blood cells, and can be caused by certain antibiotics, drugs, toxins, contaminated well water, or genetics. Dr. Otis Warren, the emergency room doctor who treated the woman, told NBC News that it happened because the numbing medicine she took contained benzocaine, and she’d “used a whole lot of it.” (Must have been a terrible toothache.) The doctor also said he recognized her symptoms from a past patient whose methemoglobinemia was caused by an antibiotic. “The skin color looked exactly the same,” Warren said. “You see it once, and it stays in your mind.”
When Warren measured the woman’s blood oxygen level, it showed 67 percent, which is when there is a risk for tissue damage. Thankfully, methemoglobinemia is fairly easy to treat with a medication called methylene blue. The woman felt better in a matter of minutes.
“People have no idea that something very specific and very dangerous can happen,” Warren said. “It is not a mild side effect.”