Acute Toxicity from Topical Cocaine for Epistaxis: Treatment with Labetalol

John R. Richards, Erik G. Laurin, Nabil Tabish, Richard A. Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Topical cocaine is sometimes used for the treatment of epistaxis, as it has both potent anesthetic and vasoconstrictive properties. Cocaine has unpredictable cardiovascular effects, such as sudden hypertension, tachycardia, coronary arterial vasoconstriction, and dysrhythmia. Case Report: We report a case of acute iatrogenic cardiovascular toxicity from the use of topical cocaine in a 56-year-old man presenting to the Emergency Department with profound epistaxis. To prepare for cauterization and nasal packing, the patient received 4% topical cocaine-soaked nasal pledgets. He became hypertensive, tachypneic, tachycardic, and dysphoric immediately after administration. To directly counter these adverse hyperadrenergic effects, the patient was given 10 mg intravenous labetalol, a mixed β- and α-blocker. This instantly normalized his vital signs and adverse subjective effects. His epistaxis was successfully treated, and he was discharged 1 h later. Why Should an Emergency Physician Be Aware of This?: We believe that emergency physicians should be aware of the unpredictable acute cardiovascular toxicity of topical cocaine. Labetalol represents an effective first-line treatment, which, unlike benzodiazepines, directly counters the pharmacologic effects of cocaine and has no respiratory or sedative side effects. Labetalol, with its mixed β/α-blocking properties, also mitigates the potential for unopposed α-stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - May 20 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Beta-blocker
  • Cardiovascular
  • Cocaine
  • Epistaxis
  • Labetalol
  • Poisoning
  • Toxicity
  • Unopposed alpha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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