Drugged prem babies
Drugs expose many premature babies to chemicals.
(Getty Images)
Premature babies are often exposed to additives in their medications that could put them at risk of brain and lung damage, according to a new study.

"Many liquid medications contain additives," co-author Dr. Hitesh C. Pandya, of the University of Leicester, UK told Reuters Health. "Some of these are necessary to produce the medicine but many are not."

"Some of these are thought to be toxic to small infants even in small quantities," he added. "Furthermore, when small infants are given several drugs a day, there is a potential that they may be given quite large doses of a specific additive as a consequence of treatment."

The researchers looked at the medication records of 38 preterm infants in a single hospital. The infants were born between June 2005 and July 2006, and were less than 30 weeks' gestation and 1500 grams at birth.

During their in-patient stays, seven infants who had chronic lung disease were exposed to more than 20 additives, including ethanol and propylene glycol, which are both associated with brain damage.

Exposure to these toxins was higher in infants with chronic lung disease. Preterm infants were also exposed to high concentrations of sorbitol. Some infants were exposed to levels of sorbitol that were in excess of recommended maximum exposure in adults.

Still, while Pandya called on the EU "to legislate to allow people to access information in relation to the specific contents of a medicine," the authors note in their report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition that "it is important to stress that no clinical link between (additive) exposure and outcomes has been made as a result of this investigation."

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