Melatonin Exposure is Sending Thousands of Children to ER, CDC Warns

Emergency room visits involving infants and children exposed to melatonin have increased by more than 400% since 2009, CDC researchers warn.

More than 11,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for accidental melatonin ingestions in recent years, according to federal data, which highlights a serious health risk associated with the popular supplement found in many American homes.

Melatonin supplements are often sold in gummy forms, containing a hormone the brain produces as part of the body’s natural circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle. However, with an increasing number of adults taking melatonin to help them fall asleep more quickly at night, there are also a growing number of children gaining access to the supplements, which can resemble candy.

In a findings published this week in the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers analyzed public health surveillance data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance Project, finding that melatonin use among adults in the U.S. increased from 0.4% during 1999–2000 to 2.1% during 2017–2018, a more than quintupled increase.

As melatonin supplements became more popular among adults, the number of poison center calls for melatonin exposure among children also increased, skyrocketing by 530% from 2012 to 2021. The number of related ER visits for melatonin ingestion among infants and children also increased by 420% since 2009.

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According to the findings, from 2019 to 2022, nearly 11,000 children were seen in U.S. emergency rooms after ingesting melatonin, accounting for 7% of all ER visits among children for medication exposures or overdoses. More than half of melatonin ingestions treated in the ER were among children younger than the age of 5 years old.

Nearly half of all melatonin exposure ER visits, roughly 47%, involved gummy forms of of the supplement, which are often sold in bottles that don’t have child protection caps, and can range in doses from 2 mg to 10 mg per gummy. The shape and color often resemble gummy candy, and the products are often fruit flavored.

Other ER visits for melatonin ingestion involved an unspecified solid form of melatonin, such as a pill or dissolvable tablet. But, in nearly every instance, children swallowed the supplement.

Most visits involved children who ingested adult formulations of melatonin, and in roughly 36% of cases, children ingested more than 10 pieces of melatonin in one sitting.

Melatonin Overdose Risks

The data for the study didn’t indicate what melatonin side effects the children experienced. The study only focused on the data involving children taken to the ER for melatonin ingestion. In low doses, melatonin can be safe for children to use, but no research states how much melatonin is suitable for children and if the benefits of helping a child relax and sleep outweigh the risks.

However, health experts indicate that the usual side effects of melatonin in children can include drowsiness, headaches, agitation, and increased urination at night. Melatonin can also lead to interactions with other drugs prescribed to children and may cause allergic reactions.

Researchers said it’s important for healthcare providers to educate parents on the dangers of supplement ingestion in children. Doctors should be consulted before giving children melatonin for any reason, and it should be taken for short periods of time, not as a long-term solution, since it can affect growth and development.

Caregivers who need the supplement for their own sleep habits can opt to purchase products with childproof caps. All medications and dietary supplements of any kind should be kept out of the reach of children and locked in cabinets if possible.

2 Comments

  • RandallMarch 8, 2024 at 6:51 pm

    These parents are being paranoid you can eat large doses of melatonin and be fine. It really is safe. Its controversial but some recommend mega dosing for therapeutic anticancer effects. Less than a milligram is needed for sleep but I've eaten 40 milligrams and felt no ill effects. I doubt they are even given any real treatment when they get to the hospital There is nothing to do but let the bo[Show More]These parents are being paranoid you can eat large doses of melatonin and be fine. It really is safe. Its controversial but some recommend mega dosing for therapeutic anticancer effects. Less than a milligram is needed for sleep but I've eaten 40 milligrams and felt no ill effects. I doubt they are even given any real treatment when they get to the hospital There is nothing to do but let the body metabolize it.

  • GlendaMarch 8, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    I am still taking this

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