Excipients in children’s medicines

This page provides information about the common ingredients (‘excipients’) used to make up children’s medicines

What are excipients?

All forms of medicine contain ingredients as well as the drug – these are called excipients.

Excipients don’t have any medical effect but they are needed for a variety of reasons:

  • To improve the taste – sugar, artificial sweeteners or flavouring may be added to liquid medicine to make them taste better.
  • To improve the texture – thickening agents may be added to liquid medicines so that they are easier to pour.
  • To dissolve the medicine – small amounts of ethanol (alcohol) may be used to help a drug dissolve to make a liquid medicine.
  • To make them easier to handle – special powder can be used to bulk up tablets to make them large enough to handle, as the amount of drug is usually tiny.
  • To make them work better – other ingredients might be added to tablets to help them break up properly in the stomach.
  • To make them last longer – preservatives might be added to improve the shelf-life of a medicine.

How can I find out which excipients are used in a medicine?

  • Different medicines contain different excipients.
  • The excipients are listed on the patient information sheet that comes with a medicine, under the heading “What is in this medicine?”
  • The names of all excipients are listed, but the amount of each may not be given.
  • If there is a risk of an allergy the amount of excipient will be listed; for example it may say this product contains ‘x’ mg aspartame in each dose.
  • You can also get specific medicines information from www.medicines.org.uk/emc