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Four Over-The-Counter Topical Medications For Pain Management And What They Do

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When you are attempting to control any type of pain at home, you may reach for a bottle of aspirin, acetaminophen, or naproxen sodium tablets. However, you can address the pain with topical medications as well, and the topical meds do not take as long to begin working. Here are four topical medications for pain management that you can buy over-the-counter (OTC) as well as some information on what these meds do.


Benzocaine is a numbing agent. When it is applied to a surface, it immediately sinks in and interacts with your nerves, numbing them and momentarily halting their ability to sense pain. It is frequently mixed with an edible and non-toxic gel so that you can apply it to sore teeth, mildly injured gums and bite injuries to the insides of your cheeks or tongue. When used for the purpose of numbing teeth, it helps you get through the pain until you can see your dentist for tooth repair and/or extraction of the painful tooth.

Menthol/Methyl Salicylate

Menthol helps numb the pain you feel by getting your nerves to react to a different stimulus. It is sort of a distractor for the pain your nerves register. Since your nerves can only (usually) register one sensation at a time, the menthol tricks your nerves into registering an invigorated sensation instead of pain. In a topical medication that contains menthol, methyl salicylate may be added to kill any sensation of pain after the menthol begins to wear off. Methyl salicylate is a pain reliever, rather than a numbing agent, similar to a pill medication. In the topical form it sinks into the skin and reduces inflammation, which is the source of the pain you are experiencing.

Pramoxine HCL (Hydrochloride)

Pramoxine HCL is a local anesthetic, which means it quiets and soothes the areas to which it is applied. Unlike injectable local anesthetics, pramoxine HCL absorbs into the skin and numbs the area, much in the same way that benzocaine for teeth does. Very small doses of pramoxine HCL exist in topical OTC medications and is frequently combined with anti-itch and anti-sting medications as well.


Neo-sinephrine is a topical meant soley for your eyes. Used in OTC pain-relieving eye drops, neo-sinephrine should not be used as a pain reliever for any other part of the body, nor should any other topical be used in your eyes. Neo-sinephrine is also a local anesthestic, and very closely relates to the ones used in your doctor's office during parts of your eye exam and during eye surgery.

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