Iodine is a naturally-occurring chemical. Small amounts are needed for good health. However, large doses can cause harm. Children are especially sensitive to the effects of iodine.
NOTE: Iodine is found in certain foods. However, there is normally not enough iodine in foods to harm the body. This article focusses on poisoning from exposure to non-food items that contain iodine.
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 the local emergency number (such as 911), or the 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.
Iodine is found in:
- Amiodarone (Cordarone)
- Chemicals (catalysts) for photography and engraving
- Dyes and inks
- Lugol's solution
- Pima syrup
- Potassium iodide
- Radioactive iodine used for certain medical tests or the treatment of thyroid disease
- Tincture of iodine
Iodine is also used during the production of methamphetamine.
Note: This list may not be all inclusive.
Symptoms of iodine poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea, sometimes bloody
- Gum and tooth soreness
- Loss of appetite
- Metallic taste in mouth
- Mouth and throat pain and burning
- No urine output
- Salivation (producing saliva)
- Shortness of breath
- Stupor (decreased level of alertness)
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.
Give the person milk, or cornstarch or flour mixed with water. Continue to give milk every 15 minutes. DO NOT give these items if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful to emergency assistance:
- Person's age, weight, and condition (for example, is the person awake or alert?)
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
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
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal
- Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
How well a person does depends on the amount of iodine swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) is a possible complication. Long-term effects of iodine overdose include thyroid gland problems.
Aronson JK. Iodine-containing medicaments. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:298-304.
Southern AP, Jwayyed S. Iodine toxicity. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560770/. Updated April 11, 2021. Accessed April 23, 2021.
Review Date 2/12/2021
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.