Additives in children’s medicines – what you need to know

A new report has raised concerns that children’s medicines may contain additives that are linked with hyperactivity and have been removed from foods. So what action should you take?


Some children’s medicines still contain E numbers that have been withdrawn from food, following research that they may make children hyperactive.


Action on Additives is calling for a ban on these food colourings being used in medicines.

Certain E numbers were withdrawn from children’s food following research by Southampton University in 2007, which found a link between some E numbers and hyperactivity. Following the study, the Food Standards Agency called for a voluntary ban on:

  • Sunset Yellow (E110)
  • Quinoline Yellow (E104)
  • Carmoisine (E122)
  • Allura Red (E129)
  • Tartrazine (E102)
  • Ponceau 4R (E124)

However, there are 52 medicinal products that still contain these colouring additives, ranging from teething gels for babies to children’s painkillers, including Calpol.

So what does this mean for parents?

One thing is clear. You should continue giving your child medicine if they need it.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has responded to the report stating that because these medicines are taken rarely, there is no real danger.

The MHRA’s acting director of licensing, Dr Sui Ping Lam, says: “The quantities of additives, including colours, used in and consumed from medicines are small in comparison to foods. We are aware that some additives can cause an unwanted reaction in a small number of people and we are continually monitoring their safety profile.”

Johnson & Johnson, which owns Calpol, has said in a statement: “Johnson & Johnson takes medicine safety very seriously and regularly reviews all evidence on the safety of ingredients in its medicines.

“To date, no evidence has been provided to suggest additives such as Carmoisine (E122) or Sunset Yellow (E110) are associated with hyperactivity when present in children’s medicines.”

Action on Additives spokesperson Lizzie Vann Thrasher told The Independent: “We’re not advising parents not to buy these medicines. But if these additives have been taken out of food and drink for all children under 36 months, and there’s been a recommended withdrawal in food and drink for older children, why do we still have them in children’s medicines that can be given to children as young as two months old?”

Action on Additives is calling for manufacturers of children’s medicines to follow the example of the food and drinks industry.

In the meantime, if you know your child is sensitive to certain E numbers, then remember not all children’s medicines include these additives. For example, Nurofen for Children is free from colour additives. Look for ingredients on packaging, and if you can’t see details on the outside, ask your pharmacist to help you. 

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