The Los Angeles Times reports that 17-year-old high school track star Arelle Newman died unexpectedly on April 3. On June 8, the New York City medical examiner concluded that Newman died from arrhythmia brought on by her body’s absorption of high doses of methyl-salicylate.
Methyl-salicylate is the ingredient in sports creams or ointments used to treat moderate aches and pains.
According to the Times, Newman was known to frequently use sports cream on her legs between track meets, along with an anti-inflammatory patch. The medical examiner determined that over time, Newman’s body absorbed a toxic level of methyl-salicylate from these topical products, which caused arrhythmia and ultimately her death.
Unbeknownst to many who use common over-the-counter topical pain relievers, several of these brand-name products contain medication that, when used too frequently, over large areas of the body, or on delicate or broken skin can be absorbed through the skin and reach toxic levels in the body. These products can also sometimes interact negatively with prescription medications. The Times says that some experts actually describe the skin as the new stomach, in terms of the skin being a route to the bloodstream just as sure as the stomach is a bloodstream route.
Dr. Derek Jones is a practicing dermatologist and an associate dermatology professor at the University of California. According to the Times, Jones said: “Think of the skin as an absorptive barrier. It absorbs the medication, just as the stomach does.” In his practice, he said, he frequently sees patients who have absorbed toxic levels of corticosteroid creams by applying them too often or using them over a long period of time. He also said too much medication can be absorbed if the affected area is wrapped or covered after one of these topical creams is applied.
According to the Times, a case in point occurred in 2005, when a 22-year-old North Carolina woman died after she applied a gel containing lidocaine and tetracaine to her legs, from ankle to thigh, and then wrapped her legs. Lidocaine and tetracaine are local anesthetics in gel form that are commonly used after cosmetic skin treatments or tattoos.
After the North Carolina woman’s death, the FDA warned five U.S. companies about the risks their anesthetic products posed and suggested they stop making them. However, the Times reports, many experts say these products continue to be used without precaution.
According to the Times, most topical products that pose a potential risk of overdose are not clearly labeled, and consumers need to take extra precaution when using these products. Dr. Gerard Varlotta is director of rehabilitative services at New York Medical Center. The Times reports that Varlotta believes people have to become more aware of how important it is to use these products only with medical supervision.
Los Angeles Times, Teen’s death underscores topical cream risks; http://www.startribune.com/1244/story/1263038.html