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Zinc poisoning

Zinc is a metal as well as an essential mineral. Your body needs zinc to function properly. If you take a multivitamin, chances are it has zinc in it. In this form, zinc is both necessary and relatively safe. Zinc can also be obtained in your diet .

Zinc however, can be mixed with other materials to make industrial items such as paint, dyes, and more. These combination substances can be particularly toxic.

This article discusses poisoning from zinc.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Zinc

Where Found

  • Compounds used to make paint, rubber, dyes, wood preservatives, and ointments
  • Rust prevention coatings
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Zinc chloride
  • Zinc oxide (relatively nonharmful)
  • Zinc acetate
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Heated or burned galvanized metal (releases zinc fumes)

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.

Symptoms

  • Body pain
  • Burning sensations
  • Chills
  • Collapse
  • Convulsions
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • No urine output
  • Rash
  • Shock
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Yellow eyes or yellow skin

Home Treatment

Seek immediate medical help.

Immediately give the person milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength if known)
  • When it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

 In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions. 

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention.  You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:

  • Fluids (water or milk)
  • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
  • Tube through the mouth or nose into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage )
  • Rarely, medicines called chelators that remove zinc from the bloodstream

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery. If symptoms are mild, the person will usually make a full recovery . If the poisoning is severe, death may occur up to a week after swallowing the poison.

References

Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.

Updated: 2/1/2013

Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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