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Sharp Health News

Can kids overdose on children’s vitamins?

July 1, 2019

Can kids overdose on children's vitamins?
In general, kids hate taking medicine. Vitamins are the exception. Manufacturers have found the kid-friendly “sweet” spot, packing plenty of nutrients into a candy-like shell.

But there’s a downside: kids can’t get enough of them! What used to be a hard sell is now a tasty treat — and most kids would clear a bottle in single sitting. So, what happens if they do?

According to Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, probably nothing. But if a child does have a reaction, it’s a dangerous one. Parents should always call poison control immediately if they suspect their child has eaten too many.

It’s all about the iron
The problem with consuming too many kid’s vitamins is the iron content. Up until the 1990s, iron poisoning was the leading cause of death from medicine overdoses in children younger than 6 years. Since then, child-proofing went into full throttle — and the overall formula of the vitamin evolved.

“Modern-day kid’s vitamins have a low amount of iron,” Dr. Gray says. “Even if an entire bottle is consumed, it likely won’t lead to full-blown iron poisoning. But parents should still call poison control, and look out for warning signs.”

Those warning signs include:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting blood
Iron poisoning occurs because too much iron corrodes the tissue lining in the gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach and intestines. Initial warning signs can lead to fluid loss, blood loss and shock. Iron toxicity can damage and kill cells that make up the tissues of body organs, and lead to seizures, coma, multiple organ failure and death.

In addition to children’s vitamins, parents and caretakers should be cautious about adult vitamins — many of which now come in fruity, gummy forms. Adult vitamins contain a higher iron content than children’s formulations, with prenatal vitamins having the highest. Adult and prenatal multivitamins with iron have been associated with the most serious poisonings in children.

Making medication safety a priority
To keep your children safe from accidental iron poisoning, Dr. Gray recommends:
  • Keeping all medications and vitamins out of a child’s sight and reach. Do not rely on childproof caps, as toddlers have been known to figure them out.
  • Verbally reinforcing the danger of taking more vitamins than the recommended dose. Kids should have an awareness that medication is not a treat, and too many pills can make them sick.
  • Ensuring that childproof caps are tightly closed. Never leave a bottle slightly open to make it easier to open later.
  • Talking to your child’s doctor about whether or not your child needs vitamins. Typically, a child who eats a balanced diet doesn’t need to take multivitamins. Picky eaters and anemic children may be an exception.
“Medication safety shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Dr. Gray says. “Kids are curious, and at times, sneaky and defiant. Your best way at dealing with a possible iron poisoning is for it not to happen in the first place.”

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