Echinacea could trigger allergies in children under 12, UK drugs watchdog warns parents
Herbal remedy could cause serious allergic reaction in children

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UPDATED:

15:54 GMT, 20 August 2012

A popular herbal remedy used to ward off colds should not be given to children under 12, according to the UK drugs watchdog.

Echinacea is believed by supporters to boost the immune system, but the MHRA said there is a small risk it could cause severe allergic reactions in children.

The herbal remedy can cause symptoms including rashes, hives, swelling of the face, difficulty breathing, asthma and anaphylactic shock.

Supporters claim Echinacea boosts the body's immune system by stimulating the activity of cells called macrophages.

Supporters claim Echinacea boosts the body's immune system by stimulating the activity of cells called macrophages. However, there is conflicting evidence on whether it is effective or not

The MHRA warning comes after the European Herbal Medicinal Products Committee (HMPC) and the UK Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee (HMAC) concluded the perceived benefits of Echinacea are outweighed by the potential risks in young children.

They say there is no risk for teenagers and adults where the risks of side effects are reduced because they weigh more and tend to catch fewer colds.

Two Echinacea products – Echinaforce Junior Cold & Flu Tablets and Echinaforce Chewable Cold & Flu Tablets – were registered under the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) Scheme for children aged between 6 and 12 years, as well as for older children and adults.

They have now been updated following the advice and newly labelled products will be available in due course stating they should not be used by under 12s.

Echinaforce Tablets and Echinaforce Echinacea Drops are also being updated in line with the advice and existing stocks will be over-labelled.

However, the report warns there are unknown Echinacea products on sale in the UK, and the MHRA is requesting these are also re-labelled, and parents and carers do not give them to children under 12.

Echinaforce Junior Cold & Flu Tablets will need to be re-labelled

Echinaforce Junior Cold & Flu Tablets will need to be re-labelled

Richard Woodfield, the MHRA's Head of Herbal Policy, said: 'This is not a serious safety issue, but parents and carers need to be aware that children under 12 could have a low risk of developing allergic reactions, such as rashes from oral Echinacea products.

'The MHRA is working with the herbal sector to ensure that all oral Echinacea products are re-labelled with a warning that they should not be given to children under 12.

'The measures being taken are precautionary in nature. Parents should not worry if they have given Echinacea to children under 12 in the past.

'Anyone who has concerns should speak to their doctor, pharmacist or qualified healthcare practitioner.'

In 2007 an analysis by the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy of 14 Echinacea studies found the remedy decreased the odds of developing a cold by 58 per cent and the duration of colds by a day-and-a-half. However, it was not clear what part of the plant had the most potent effect.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Disease, conflicted with other studies that found no beneficial effect.