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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 article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Zinc

Where Found

Zinc can be found in many things, including:

  • 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

Symptoms may include:

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

Home Care

Seek medical help right away.

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

Before Calling Emergency

The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:

  • The person'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

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. 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 provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation),and ventilator (breathing machine)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through the vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Laxative

In serious cases, medicines called chelators, which remove zinc from the bloodstream may be needed, and the person may need to be hospitalized.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person 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

Aronson JK. Zinc. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:568-572.

Khan KNM, Hard GC, Alden CL. Kidney. In: Haschek WM, Rousseaux CG, Wallig MA, eds. Haschek and Rousseaux's Handbook of Toxicologic Pathology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:chap 47.

National Library of Medicine; Specialized Information Services; Toxicology Data Network. Zinc, elemental. Updated December 20, 2006. toxnet.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed February 9, 2017.

Review Date 1/31/2017

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.