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Zinc oxide overdose

Zinc oxide is an ingredient in many products, including certain creams and ointments used to prevent or treat minor skin burns and irritation. Zinc oxide overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally eats this medication.

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 the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

See also: Bacitracin zinc overdose

Alternative Names

Desitin overdose; Calamine lotion overdose; Zinaderm overdose; Amalox overdose; Azo 22 overdose

Poisonous Ingredient

Zinc oxide

Where Found

Zinc oxide may be found in many different products, including:

  • Zinc oxide ointment
  • Diaper rash medications
  • Hemorrhoid medications
  • Skin lotions
  • Calamine lotion
  • Caladryl lotion
  • Sunscreen lotion
  • Cosmetics
  • Paint
  • Rubber goods
  • Paper coating

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

  • Chills
  • Yellow eyes and skin
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Mouth and throat irritation

Home Care

If the person swallowed a lot of zinc oxide, immediately give the person water or milk. Do NOT give water or milk if the patient 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 doctor or poison control.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national 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. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Zinc oxide is not very toxic (poisonous) when you mistakenly eat it. Most of the harmful effects come from breathing in the gas form of zinc oxide at industrial sites in the chemical industry. This leads to a condition known as "metal fume fever." Metal fume fever involves a metallic taste in the mouth, fever, headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms, which start about 4 to 12 hours after exposure.

Long-term recovery is very likely.

References

Holland MG. Pulmonary toxicity. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 9.

Hall AH, Shannon MW. Other heavy metals. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 75.

Blanc PD. Acute Pulmonry Responses to Toxic Exposures. In:Mason RJ et al., eds. Mason: Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 68.

Updated: 1/18/2014

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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