December 01, 2019

'Magic mouthwash' for painful, cancer-related mouth sores

When cancer is treated with chemotherapy or radiation, a common side effect is the development of painful mouth sores known as oral mucositis. The insides of the cheeks and lips — as well as the underside of the tongue — are the most commonly affected sites. Larger sores can produce pain so excruciating that eating and drinking become impossible.

Now, a mouthwash made up of three different common medications has been shown to significantly reduce pain related to mouth sores in people who have been treated for cancer. The new findings about the so-called magic mouthwash were published by a team of researchers — led by Mayo Clinic — in the April 16, 2019, issue of JAMA.

In the study, researchers found that participants with oral mucositis experienced significant relief from pain for the first four hours after using one of two different oral rinses. One of the mouthwashes, which contained the antidepressant doxepin, had already been shown to reduce pain in prior research. The other, known as magic mouthwash, had not been previously studied, but proved equally effective. It contained a mix of diphenhydramine — an antihistamine used to treat allergies and cold symptoms and motion sickness — the topical pain reliever lidocaine and antacids. Although this mix had previously been used by doctors in treating oral mucositis, this is the first significant study to establish its effectiveness.