Zinc oxide is an ingredient in many products. Some of these are certain creams and ointments used to prevent or treat minor skin burns and irritation. Zinc oxide overdose occurs when someone eats one of these products. This can be by accident or on purpose.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. 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.
Zinc oxide can cause symptoms if it is eaten, or if its fumes are breathed in.
Zinc oxide poisoning can cause these symptoms:
- Fever, chills
- Mouth and throat irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Yellow eyes and skin
Most of the harmful effects of zinc oxide come from breathing in the gas form of zinc oxide at industrial sites in the chemical or welding industry. This leads to a condition known as metal fume fever. Symptoms of metal fume fever include a metallic taste in the mouth, fever, headache, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Symptoms start about 4 to 12 hours after breathing in the fumes and may result in serious injury to the lungs.
If someone swallows a lot of zinc oxide, give them water or milk right away. Do NOT give water or milk if the person is vomiting or has a decreased level of alertness.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the chemical is breathed in (inhaled), move the person to fresh air.
Call your health care provider or poison control center.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison control 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 national hotline 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. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
Treatment may include:
- Activated charcoal
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the throat and connected to a breathing machine if zinc oxide fumes were breathed in
- Intravenous fluids (IV, given through a vein)
- Medicine to treat symptoms
- Skin and eye washing if the product touched these tissues and they are irritated or swollen
Zinc oxide is not very poisonous if it is eaten. Long-term recovery is very likely. However, people who have had long-term exposure to metal fumes may develop serious lung disease.
Desitin overdose; Calamine lotion overdose
Aronson JK. Zinc. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:568-572.
Meehan TJ. Approach to the poisoned patient. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 139.
Review Date 6/23/2019
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, 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.