Everyday children's medicines found in cupboards up and down the country contain a "cocktail of additives" banned from foods and drinks for youngsters of the same age, a food watchdog has claimed.
Brands widely used by parents such as Calpol, Benylin, Sudafed, and Tixylix have all fallen foul of a survey of medicines for infants under three, amid concerns manufacturers are using synthetic ingredients unnecessarily.
The survey, by the Food Commission, found many products routinely contain colourings and multiple artificial sweeteners and preservatives, which could have harmful side effects.
Of 41 medicines scrutinised, just one product was found not to contain a food additive or additives which are prohibited from foodstuffs manufactured for infants under 36 months. That was Superdrug's own label children's dry cough syrup.
Potential side effects of the additives - such as E123, E214, E216, and E218 - include delayed allergic reactions, irritation of the skin, eyes and mucosal surfaces, stomach upsets, laxative effects, and diarrhoea.
Nigel Meadows, a paediatric gastroenterologist currently treating a young child with an allergy to a paracetamol product, told The Herald that the use of additives to make medicine more palatable to children had run its course, and called on the pharmaceutical industry to launch a review of childhood medicine.
Ian Tokelove, spokesman for the commission's Food Magazine, said: "It seems that the food manufacturers and drug manufacturers operate under different rules, which is crazy. Smarties manufacturer Nestle cleaned up its act, and if the food manufacturers can do it why can't the pharmaceutical industry? Whilst many children will be able to consume these products safely, there will be those who will suffer allergic reactions to additives.
"It is time for medicine manufacturers to clean up their act and remove any unnecessary additives. We believe that colourings and artificial sweeteners can be replaced with natural alternatives, and the use of preservatives should be rigorously questioned."
Just over half the medicines warned of possible side effects linked to the consumption of specific food additives.
Dr Meadows, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital, said: "Additives and colourings were introduced to make medicine easier for children to take, but more and more, we are seeing allergic reactions.
"I am treating one young child allergic to Calpol paracetamol, and I'm looking to break down the individual components to source the allergy. It is time the industry looked more closely at the use of additives in children's medicine, and whether these ingredients are necessary at all."
Food and drink manufacturers tend to adhere to 1992 guidance issued by the government that natural flavourings only should be used in foods for young infants, but the report claims that "some medicine manufacturers think it is OK for babies to be exposed to artificial flavourings".
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the body responsible for the regulation of medical products in the UK, said that in accordance with European legislation, it permits the inclusion of additives, including colourants, in foods and drugs. The MHRA added that the "function and usefulness" of all such additives in medicines must be justified before a licence to market products is granted.
The survey found azo dyes were present in five items out of 41 surveyed.
Preservatives were discovered in all but 10 of the medicines surveyed. Sweeteners were found in 37 of the 41 medicines.
A spokesman for Calpol said last night: "Almost all medicines contain colouring and flavouring agents to enable consumers to identify them and to make them more acceptable to take, disguising the less palatable taste of the active ingredient."
He added: "This is particularly relevant with children's medicines, as ensuring children take their medicine is important to parents."
Source: The Glasgow Herald