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Effects of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) on Kid's Health

Published June 06, 2024

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Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is commonly used in various pharmaceutical and medical applications, particularly as a laxative to treat constipation in kids. While it is widely regarded as effective, concerns about its safety and potential side effects continue to be a topic of discussion. This blog explores the safety concerns and side effects of PEG in kids.

What is Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)?

PEG is a synthetic polymer made from ethylene glycol. It comes in various molecular weights, with PEG 3350 being the most frequently used form in pediatric laxatives. PEG 3350 works by retaining water in the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.

Safety Concerns with PEG Use in Kids

Despite its effectiveness, several safety concerns have been raised regarding the use of PEG in kids:

  1. Behavioral Changes: Some parents have reported behavioral changes in their kids while using PEG 3350. These reports include instances of increased anxiety, aggression, and mood swings. A review in theJournal of Pediatric Health Care noted these anecdotal reports, although scientific evidence linking PEG 3350 to behavioral changes is limited. 

  2. Potential Allergic Reactions: Although rare, allergic reactions to PEG have been reported. Symptoms can include hives, itching, and difficulty breathing. A study inClinical Pediatrics reviewed cases of PEG allergy and found that such reactions are extremely uncommon, occurring in less than 1% of users. However, parents should be aware of the potential for allergic reactions and monitor their kids for any signs.

  3. Impact on the Gut Microbiome: The effect of PEG on the gut microbiome is an area of ongoing research. A study published inGut Microbes indicated that PEG might alter the composition of gut bacteria. However, the clinical significance of these changes is not yet fully understood. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is crucial for overall health, so this potential impact warrants further investigation.

Side Effects of PEG

While PEG is generally well-tolerated in most populations, it can have side effects, particularly when used in higher doses or for extended periods:

  1. Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Common side effects include bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort. These symptoms are usually mild and transient. According to a review in theAmerican Journal of Gastroenterology, such side effects are less common and less severe compared to other laxatives.

  2. Diarrhea: Overuse of PEG can lead to diarrhea, which can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if not managed properly. Ensuring the correct dosage is essential to prevent this issue.

  3. Nausea and Vomiting: Some kids may experience nausea and vomiting when taking PEG. These side effects are typically mild and can often be mitigated by adjusting the dosage.

Recommendations for Parents

Parents should consult with healthcare providers before starting their kids on PEG to ensure it is the appropriate treatment. It is crucial to follow the prescribed dosage and monitor for any adverse effects. 

Summary

PEG 3350 is a common treatment for constipation in kids, but it comes with potential safety concerns and side effects. While it is often used for short-term care, parents should be aware of possible behavioral changes, allergic reactions, and impacts on the gut microbiome when used for extended periods of time. 

References:

  1. Journal of Pediatric Health Care: "Behavioral Changes Associated with PEG 3350" (2015)
  2. Clinical Pediatrics: "Allergic Reactions to PEG in Pediatric Patients" (2010)
  3. Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "Systemic Absorption of PEG 3350" (2013)
  4. The American Journal of Gastroenterology: "PEG 3350 Safety and Electrolyte Balance" (2008)
  5. Gut Microbes: "Impact of PEG 3350 on the Gut Microbiome" (2019)
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