Melatonin overdoses in children increased during pandemic, study finds

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Getting good sleep isn’t easy, especially during a worrying pandemic with no end in sight, so it’s no surprise that bottles of sleep-inducing melatonin pills have become bedside staples.

But this increased availability of melatonin at home, especially in easy-to-consume forms like gummies, has had serious, even deadly, consequences for children who accidentally get their hands on it or receive it from a caregiver.

A new study published by the CDC found that melatonin overdoses in children increased by 530% from 2012 to 2021, with the largest spike – a 38% increase – occurring from 2019 to 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic COVID has started. Researchers looked at melatonin overdoses in children and teens.

More than 260,000 cases have been reported to US poison control centers over the past decade, including more than 4,000 hospitalizations and nearly 300 that ended in intensive care.

Five children required mechanical ventilation and two children – one 3 months old and one 1 year old – died at home from melatonin poisoning.

The researchers said child-resistant packaging for melatonin “should be considered” and that health care providers need to better warn parents of the “potential toxic consequences” of the supplement.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Karima Lelak, a pediatric emergency physician at Michigan Children’s Hospital in Detroit, said melatonin may not be as harmless as people make it out to be, and that safe storage is absolutely essential.

“Parents really should view melatonin like any other drug that can harm children, and it can be even more dangerous because it can look like candy,” Lelak told BuzzFeed News. “If a parent takes their melatonin after reading this article and puts it in their medicine cabinet, I’m touched because I think that’s a really big takeaway: safe storage.”

Melatonin supplements work by mimicking melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone in our body that is produced by the brain in response to darkness. Supplements are primarily used to treat sleep disorders, but are an over-the-counter product available to anyone that anyone can buy and use to help improve sleep (and they’re often presented to parents as sleep aid for children).

Melatonin is regulated by the FDA as a dietary supplement, requires no prescription, and is widely available in pill, liquid, and gum form.

The majority of melatonin overdoses were accidental, occurred at home, and were treated in settings outside of health care, the researchers found. the most involved boys under 5 years old.

Melatonin consumption accounted for about 5% of all childhood overdoses reported to poison control centers in 2021, up from 0.6% in 2012, according to the study. The supplement was the most common substance used by children reported to poison control centers in 2020, likely because children were spending more time at home due to pandemic-related school closures and stay-at-home orders. .

The 10-year study also showed that melatonin ingestions lead to more serious consequences over time. While most hospitalized patients involved teenagers who may have intentionally taken too many hormones, the biggest increase in hospital admissions occurred among children under age 5 who accidentally overdosed. of melatonin.

It’s still unclear why the severity of melatonin ingestions in children is getting worse, but researchers believe quality control issues with the supplements themselves may be playing a role.

Melatonin sales in the United States jumped 150% between 2016 and 2020 in response to public demand.

Studies in Canada have shown that melatonin sold in stores often does not match some of its label claims in terms of dosage, with the greatest variation found in chews that children are more likely to consume.

This research led to significant changes in Canadian health policies regarding melatonin, including the banning of certain over-the-counter products. However, such “drug quality studies and legislative initiatives in the United States are lacking,” the researchers wrote.

Additionally, these studies have shown that some melatonin products are often contaminated with “potentially clinically significant” doses of serotonin, a byproduct of melatonin, which can lead to serotonin toxicity in children, causing symptoms such as confusion, high blood pressure, overactive reflexes. , and a rapid heart rate.

Most of the children in the study who accidentally took too much melatonin had no symptoms, but those who did had gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, or central nervous system problems, including nausea, drowsiness, abdominal pain and vomiting, Lelak said.

It’s hard to know how much melatonin is too much because there’s no established dosage deemed safe for consumption, according to Lelak. This may be a tablet or an entire bottle, but this will depend on the age of the person, the symptoms they experience after ingestion (if any) and their size.

About 15 to 25 percent of children and teens have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, the group warns that parents should speak with their pediatrician before giving melatonin to their children.

Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, previously told BuzzFeed News that parents should wait until their children are at least 3 years old before giving them melatonin because younger children have “untrained neurological and endocrine systems”.

It’s also a good idea to address bad sleep behaviors first to ensure kids get quality sleep.

If you suspect your child has consumed melatonin, Lelak said you should call the poison control center right away, especially if you don’t know how much he ingested. (The Poison Control Center can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.) Experts online will help guide you if your child has symptoms and determine if a hospital visit is warranted.

Most importantly, store your melatonin out of a child’s reach, like in a locked storage box, she added.

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