Are kids taking too many vitamins? Texas Poison Center reports spike in calls


AUSTIN (KXAN) – The gummy little lion looks like candy. Same with the colorful fruit variety. It may taste like a treat, but it’s actually vitamins. 

The Texas Poison Center Network said it’s getting more calls about kids taking extra vitamins during the pandemic. 

“Kids are home right now – some parents are working – so these kids are used to a routine and they go in there and they take these medications by themselves,” said Tommie Ferguson, Community Education Specialist with Texas Poison Center Network. “They’re like ‘oh this tastes good I’m going to take another one – it’s a vitamin – it can’t hurt me.’ So, we have to be careful with those and make sure kids aren’t taking them by themselves without proper instruction.”

According to the poison center data, the number of calls about vitamin consumption among children under 5 years old increased from 1,160 in 2019 to 1,552 during the pandemic from March to June, a 34% increase. 

Data also showed that the number of calls in children from 0-19 years increased from 1,379 in 2019 to 1,884 in 2020, a 37% increase in the months of March to June.

Ferguson explained that the majority of cases had no effect or minimal effect, but there is concern about children getting into certain vitamins.

“A lot of vitamins are ok. We worry about vitamins with iron in them because that can be deadly for kids if they take too much of that,” Ferguson said. 

Impact on the body 

The Texas Poison Center Network said parents need to check ingredients on vitamins and use child-resistant locks on doors and cabinets for storing. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Most kids’ vitamins don’t have iron unless specified, but prenatal and some adult vitamins do include iron. 

“The iron ingestion can be really serious,” said Dr. Eric Higginbotham, Medical Director and Division Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center. “It was such a problem – it has been taken out of most vitamins for kids – if not all vitamins for kids in the U.S.” 

Dr. Higginbotham explained that in the 70s the medical community learned a lot about iron after the Flintstone vitamins hit store shelves. At the time, he said those vitamins did have iron in them and kids were taking too many. 

“What happens immediately after you take too much iron is you begin to have nausea, vomiting – you can develop diarrhea, and that iron can start to directly affect the lining of the stomach or the lining of the small intestine,” said Dr. Higginbotham. “So, you can end up with bleeding and that would be vomiting blood or having diarrhea that has blood in it, and then that iron is also affecting other types of cells in your body. It can affect the heart. It could affect the brain. It could affect the central nervous system.”

Dr. Higginbotham explained that too much iron can also cause narrowing of the esophagus or the small intestine. 

“With kids it really depends on the size of the child and the amount of the ingestion. So, these smaller kids it could possibly be just a couple extra pills. Somebody that’s much larger would have to be substantially more,” said Dr. Higginbotham. 

He said too much of any vitamin can impact the body including:

  • Vitamin A: Can lead to hair loss and headache
  • Vitamin C: Can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Vitamin D: Can lead to muscles not working and impact to heart

Dr. Higginbotham and the poison center said vitamins are medicine and parents should check ingredients. Parents are also urged to use child-resistant locks on doors and cabinets to store the vitamins.

Hand sanitizer calls also up

Another concern has been hand sanitizer because of the high levels of alcohol. 

“Generally, the component in that hand sanitizer is ethyl alcohol or the type of alcohol that’s in beer and spirits and wine,” said Dr. Higginbotham. “What that can do is cause alcohol intoxication and in young kids that can be potentially serious and critical.”

The Texas Poison Center Network said children should not take hand sanitizer to school with them and parents should get teachers the products. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost) 

He’s treated one case where a toddler had gotten into hand sanitizer that was hanging on the side of a bag and squirting some in their mouth. He said the child was immediately brought in as a precaution.  

The poison center said that calls about children, under 5 years old,  swallowing hand sanitizer have gone up 47% from last year.

“People are more scared now because kids are going back to school. People are going back to work. So, a lot of it is they are using it more – they’re buying it – they have it laying around,” said Ferguson. 

The FDA recently posted a voluntary recall for hand sanitizer sold online which looked like applesauce pouches. 

“We don’t want parents buying things that look like food products and putting it in the hands of kids because mistakes happen quite often,” said Ferguson. 

She said if you have any questions call poison control specialists who are pharmacists, doctors and nurses and available 24 hours a day. They can be reached by calling the emergency hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

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