CDC Warns Thousands of Children Sent to ER After Taking Common Sleep Aid

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The agency said melatonin, which can come in sugary gummies, has led to a sharp increase in ER visits.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) paper released Thursday found that thousands of young children have been taken to the emergency room over the past several years after taking the very common sleep-aid supplement melatonin.

The agency said that melatonin, which can come in gummies that are meant for adults, was implicated in about 7 percent of all emergency room visits for young children and infants “for unsupervised medication ingestions,” adding that many incidents were linked to the ingestion of gummy formulations that were flavored. Those incidents occurred between the years 2019 and 2022.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the human body to regulate its sleep cycle. Supplements, which are sold in a number of different formulas, are generally taken before falling asleep and are popular among people suffering from insomnia, jet lag, chronic pain, or other problems.

The supplement isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and does not require child-resistant packaging. However, a number of supplement companies include caps or lids that are difficult for children to open.

The CDC report said that a significant number of melatonin-ingestion cases among young children were due to the children opening bottles that had not been properly closed or were within their reach. Thursday’s report, the agency said, “highlights the importance of educating parents and other caregivers about keeping all medications and supplements (including gummies) out of children’s reach and sight,” including melatonin.

The approximately 11,000 emergency department visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestions by infants and young children during 2019–2022 highlight the importance of educating parents and other caregivers about keeping all medications and supplements (including gummies) out of children’s reach and sight.

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The CDC notes that melatonin use among Americans has increased five-fold over the past 25 years or so. That has coincided with a 530 percent increase in poison center calls for melatonin exposures to children between 2012 and 2021, it said, as well as a 420 percent increase in emergency visits for unsupervised melatonin ingestion by young children or infants between 2009 and 2020.

Some health officials advise that children under the age of 3 should avoid taking melatonin unless a doctor says otherwise. Side effects include drowsiness, headaches, agitation, dizziness, and bed wetting.

Other symptoms of too much melatonin include nausea, diarrhea, joint pain, anxiety, and irritability. The supplement can also impact blood pressure.

However, there is no established threshold for a melatonin overdose, officials have said. Most adult melatonin supplements contain a maximum of 10 milligrams of melatonin per serving, and some contain less.

Many people can tolerate even relatively large doses of melatonin without significant harm, officials say. But there is no antidote for an overdose. In cases of a child accidentally ingesting melatonin, doctors often ask a reliable adult to monitor them at home.

Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, with the Seattle Children’s Hospital at the University of Washington, told CNN that parents should speak with a doctor before giving their children the supplement.

“I also tell families, this is not something your child should take forever. Nobody knows what the long-term effects of taking this is on your child’s growth and development,” she told the outlet. “Taking away blue-light-emitting smartphones, tablets, laptops, and television at least two hours before bed will keep melatonin production humming along, as will reading or listening to bedtime stories in a softly lit room, taking a warm bath, or doing light stretches.”

In 2022, researchers found that in 2021, U.S. poison control centers received more than 52,000 calls about children consuming worrisome amounts of the dietary supplement. That’s a six-fold increase from about a decade earlier. Most such calls are about young children who accidentally got into bottles of melatonin, some of which come in the form of gummies for kids, the report said.

Dr. Karima Lelak, an emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the lead author of the study published in 2022 by the CDC, found that in about 83 percent of those calls, the children did not show any symptoms.

However, other children had vomiting, altered breathing, or other symptoms. Over the 10 years studied, more than 4,000 children were hospitalized, five were put on machines to help them breathe, and two children under the age of two died. Most of the hospitalized children were teenagers, and many of those ingestions were thought to be suicide attempts.

Those researchers also suggested that COVID-19 lockdowns and virtual learning forced more children to be at home all day, meaning there were more opportunities for kids to access melatonin. Also, those restrictions may have caused sleep-disrupting stress and anxiety, leading more families to consider melatonin, they suggested.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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