A recent report released from a University of Massachusetts Medical School toxicologist, Richard Church, indicated that many hospitals and poison control centers are noting an increase in caffeine poisonings in those who are 19 years old or younger. After reading this, I called the Indiana Poison Center and spoke to the director, James Mawry.
He verified that reports of caffeine poisoning are on the rise in Indiana and have prompted increased calls to the Poison Center, with a 50 percent increase since 2005. Statistics are kept on reported poisonings given to the center from hospitals as well as calls to the Poison Center itself.(Source: James Mawry, Director of Indiana Poison Center, full source info at end of article.)
This mirrors the information found by a team of investigators, one which reflected sharply increased caffeine poisonings in the Boston area. Most involved children or young adults under 19 years of age. While full information isn’t yet available as to why caffeine poisoning is being reported more often, plenty of finger pointing is being directed towards drinks like Red Bull and energy drinks. At this point, parents and others who worry about how much caffeine their children may be eating or drinking (caffeine is in many food products) might want to read on…
What is caffeine poisoning and why is it being reported more often in Boston, Indianapolis and nationwide?
In the Boston area alone, 4600 calls were made to poison control in 2005, the most recent date when info was collected. According to my local source at the Poison Control Center, reports of caffeine poisoning in Indiana have shown significant increases, with each year reflecting more calls from parents, school nurses and others. Statistics and data collected from hospitals back up the information about increased calls about caffeine poisoning. Happily, in the Indianapolis area, most of those affected do not suffer serious harm or death. Even so, symptoms of caffeine poisoning are not to be taken lightly.
Caffeine may be particularly dangerous for babies. Symptoms include trouble breathing, confusion, dizziness, fever, mood changes, heart palpitations, muscle twitches, difficulty sleeping, vomiting and dehydration. Babies may even go into shock due to too much caffeine. Especially important to note during summer months? Caffeine can dehydrate the body, leading to increased urination and risk of sunstroke if a person is exercising in extremely hot weather.
Teenagers and children may simply not realize how much caffeine they are drinking and parents can be in the dark as well
Did you know that it isn’t only energy drinks and cola type drinks like Pepsi and Coke that have caffeine? I didn’t and neither did plenty of other parents, according to the calls received from poison control centers. After all, who’d guess that snack foods, gum, mints or even lip balm could be full of caffeine? How many parents or nurses or grandparents – let alone the young adults or children – knew that energy drinks can have more caffeine than two or three cups of regular coffee?
There are other drinks besides coffee which have strange sounding ingredients in them, many of which contain caffeine. Yerba drinks are are example as are some chai-coffee combos, chocolate, cocoa and other substances. Then there are those products which are designed to keep people awake, things like No-Doz or pain meds with caffeine in them.
My own suspicions were raised one night after a teen spent the night after having had two Red Bull drinks before arriving at our house. He couldn’t sleep all night and was wired well into the next day, a definite change from his relatively normal teenage behavior and energy level.
Regulation of caffeine and monitoring of caffeine poisoning has not yet seemed to get the FDA to clamp down or regulate its availability to children
Clearly, many parents would be reluctant to keep their children from having a chocolate bar or a cup of hot chocolate in the winter. Caffeine isn’t necessarily dangerous in low to moderate amounts. But when kids and teens chug drink after drink of highly caffeinated sodas or other beverages and then eat foods which are also full of caffeine, that can spell trouble. Some doctors are even urging companies to pull products off the market. While rare, anyone (child or adult) with a pre-existing or undetected heart condition could be at extra risk.
The perceived benefits of these drinks may raise the risks of caffeine poisoning in Indianapolis and other cities nationwide
I drink coffee so I know that it gives a burst of energy. Many teens and children have to get up early for school and a caffeinated energy drink can give a burst of energy – but at what cost? Perhaps a good night’s sleep, lack of caffeine after school and some increased awareness by parents and others could lower the number of calls to poison control centers.
Where to find out how caffeine is in foods and drinks
Energy Fiend was the most useful website I’ve found and it was a shocker: energyfiend.com/caffeine-in-candy
NRG potato chips had 175 mg of caffeine per serving. Call me naive but I never thought of potato chips as being full of caffeine. That is close to the 200 mg of caffeine found in maximum strength No-Doz, a product designed to keep people awake. But who’d expect potato chips to do the same? Mad Crocs Gum and some versions of Jelly Belly candies also had significant levels of caffeine but not nearly as much as in those NRG potato chips or No-Doz.
1. Nationwide and Boston info: WCVB: Caffeine Behind 4600 Calls to Poison Control, July 11, 2008, KAPP: www.kapptv.com/news/
2. Indianapolis info: James Mawry, Direction of Poison Control Center (800) 222-1222
3. Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002579.htm#Symptoms
4. Energy Fiend website for food and drink caffeine levels: energyfiend.com/caffeine-in-candy