South Carolina teen’s death raises concerns of caffeine overdoses

BLUFFTON, Sc. (WSAV) – When most people think of kids “overdosing on caffeine”, they probably picture very hyper children bouncing off the walls, but in reality, it’s a much more serious scene.

“Since 2007, emergency department visits have more than doubled related to energy drinks and 10% of those are serious enough to require hospitalization,” said Tom Bouthillet, the Cardiac Care Program Manager with Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.

Recently, one of those trips resulted in the death of a 16-year-old high school student in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Caffeine can cause elevated heart rate, it increase blood pressure, and in select circumstances, it can actually cause cardiac arrhythmias,” said Bouthillet.

Cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heart beat, is exactly what happened to the teen after consuming a large mountain dew, McDonald’s coffee, and an energy drink in just two hours.

“It’s not so much that caffeine is unsafe, but the misuse of caffeine.” said Bouthillet.

And it can happen to anyone, with or without heart problems. While most adults can safely drink about four or five cups of coffee a day, youngsters ages 12 to 18 should not exceed the equivalent of one cup.

“They’re doing it to study, some of them think it’s enhancing their athletic performance,” said Bouthillet, “It may have become habit forming, and they’re building up a tolerance to these drinks so they’re having to consume more and more of them to feel more alert. “

One regular size can of coke has 34 milligrams of caffeine; one energy drink has about four times that.

Most schools don’t even allow these drinks passed their doors, like Bluffton Middle School.

“Our school does not have anything for sale that has caffeine in it, for breakfast or lunch,” said Principal Pat Freda, “There’s no soda machines available to students, just water machines.”

Principal Freda says instead of giving tired kids caffeine, let them sleep more.

“Last year we started at 7:20, students had to be in their seats, awake and learning,” she said, “And this year…we don’t start til 8:45… kids are a lot more alert, they’re much more awake when they come in in the morning… it’s definitely a big difference.”

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