Medicines given to premature babies contain chemicals that could cause nerve damage, according to a study.
Researchers at Leicester Royal Infirmary said the liquid medicines contain substances that are sometimes above the level recommended for adults.
One problem is that little evidence exists about their safety for younger people as the medicines are routinely tested in adults but very rarely in children.
The study, in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, followed 38 babies born under 30 weeks into pregnancy and who weighed less than 3.3lb each.
Researchers found that the babies were regularly exposed to more than 20 different excipients – substances used to ease the administration, absorption or preservation of a medicine or improve its taste and appearance.
The excipients listed include sorbitol (in dexamethasone and iron), ethanol (alcohol used in iron and furosemide) and propylene glycol (found in dexamethasone).
The authors wrote: “Preterm infants are commonly exposed to excipients some of which are potentially toxic. Strategies aimed at reducing excipient load in preterm infants are urgently required.”
The study also identified the colorant Ponceau 4R in the iron formulation, which the US Food Standards Agency has recommended be removed due to fears over its effect on neurodevelopment and behaviour.
Copyright Press Association 2009