Parents beware. If your tots and teens get their hands on your energy drinks, they could experience seizures, heart palpitations or other problems that drive them to the hospital emergency room.
Children most at risk appear to be those who regularly consume the increasingly popular caffeine-laden energy drinks or gulp down a relatively large amount of the liquid in a short span, according to Rutgers University's poison control experts.
"These drinks are made for adults. When young children drink them, they consume a large quantity of caffeine for their body mass. At the minimum, they become wired -- just as an adult would -- and it might be difficult for parents to console them or calm them down," says Bruce Ruck, director of drug information and professional education for the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System (NJPIES) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. "Children also might have trouble falling asleep or experience tremors, anxiety, agitation, heart palpitations, nausea or vomiting. Of more concern, they may experience a rapid heart rate or seizures.
"Parents need to be aware of the risks and treat these drinks as they would a medication. Store them on a high shelf, away from view. If they have teenagers, they should monitor their exposure," Ruck adds.
Energy drinks also pose hazards to adolescents, especially when mixed with alcohol or punishing workouts. Steven Marcus, the executive and medical director of NPIES, emphasizes that teens and young adults are inherently risk takers. And those who are physically active face extra risk this time of year. "This is when high school and collegiate athletes start their ramp up," says Marcus. "The use of energy drinks coupled with strenuous exercise in hot weather can produce a potentially fatal situation."
Risks associated with energy drinks made headlines recently when the mother of a California teenager who died from cardiac arrhythmia in 2012 sued an energy drink company, claiming its product caused her 19-year-old son to go into cardiac arrest. He reportedly consumed two cans daily for three years before his death.
Brightly designed packaging appears to be one reason younger children are attracted to energy drinks. Some of the colorful containers resemble soda cans, others fit in the palm of your hand. The small containers may allow younger children to mistake the energy beverages for the drinks they typically consume. Some teens and even young adults are finding themselves in an emergency room after regularly consuming these popular beverages.
A recent issue of Clinical Toxicology, the journal of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, reported that children under age 6 who consumed caffeine-infused energy drinks accounted for more than half of the energy drink-related toxicity cases involving child illnesses that have been reported to the U.S. National Poison Data System.
This startling statistic was disclosed on the heels of the American Medical Association's call for a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to children under 18 pending more scientific studies. The concern? The ease with which children can access these highly caffeinated beverages, which could lead to a variety of health problems and even death.
Individuals most at risk appear to be those who consume these drinks on a regular basis -- and that's up to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults, according to a recent report in the journal Pediatrics. Caffeine levels in drinks such as Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar range from about 6 milligrams to 242 milligrams per serving, and some containers have more than one serving. By comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams.
Sales of energy drinks, which entered the American market in the mid-1980s, soared to $12.5 billion last year and show no signs of slowing. NJPIES has embarked on a public education campaign in traditional and social media to urge caution when consuming these drinks. The state's only poison control center, NJPIES provides information on poison prevention and treatments, including free consultation, through its toll-free, 24/7 hotline.
Ruck also explained that, in addition to large amounts of caffeine, most energy drinks contain sweeteners, vitamins and maybe herbal products, some of which may hold hidden risks for certain individuals."As one example, the FDA issued a warning his year against use of DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) in energy drinks and supplements," Ruck notes. "DMAA is essentially an amphetamine-like compound, known in higher doses to elevate blood pressure."
To determine whether products have been declared dangerous by the FDA or other agencies/organizations, consumers and health care professionals can contact NJPIES, Which provides help in more than 150 languages. People can call 800-222-1222, text email@example.com or participate in live-chat on its website.
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