Zinc Poisoning

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What is zinc poisoning?

Zinc is an important mineral required for a number of functions involving energy and metabolism. It is critical in supporting the immune system, which protects us from pathogens, infections, and disease. Zinc also plays a role in carbohydrate breakdown (process that supplies energy), as well as in cell growth, division and reproduction.

Zinc is also a metal with many common industrial applications, such as in paints, cleaners, solvents, and other construction materials. Zinc can also be found in rubber, varnish, dyes, and rust-proofing agents. Exposure to significant amounts of zinc can be extremely hazardous and result in poisoning. Overconsumption of zinc supplements can also cause zinc poisoning. Zinc is essential to healthy copper metabolism. Zinc toxicity interferes with normal copper absorption.

Symptoms of zinc poisoning are extremely serious and include convulsions and seizures, fever, aches and pains, shock, fainting, a persistent taste of metal, inability to urinate, rash, low blood pressure, and vomiting.

Zinc poisoning is a potentially life-threatening emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as vomiting, seizure, inability to urinate, or difficulty breathing.

What are the symptoms of zinc poisoning?

Symptoms of zinc poisoning can be very serious and warrant immediate medical attention. These symptoms tend to be generalized (involving your entire body) and can make you feel very sick.

Common symptoms of zinc poisoning

Common symptoms of zinc poisoning include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, zinc poisoning can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms:

  • Convulsions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness
  • Inability to urinate
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Shock
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

What causes zinc poisoning?

Zinc poisoning occurs when there are toxic levels of zinc in the body. Zinc is commonly found in paints, metals, cleaners, solvents, and other construction materials. Other common materials and products containing zinc include rubber, varnish, dyes, and rust-proofing agents. You can also develop zinc poisoning through overconsumption of zinc supplements.

What are the risk factors for zinc poisoning?

Your risk for zinc poisoning can be due to a variety of factors. Not all people with risk factors will get zinc poisoning. Risk factors for zinc poisoning include:

  • Excessive consumption of zinc supplements or a daily diet that exceeds recommended daily requirements

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals including paint, lead, industrial chemicals and cleaners, solvents, rubber, metal fumes, varnish, and antirust products

Reducing your risk of zinc poisoning

You can significantly reduce your risk of zinc poisoning though proper handling, use and storage of hazardous chemicals and other materials containing zinc. Another helpful step is to become acquainted with the minimum daily requirements for zinc in your diet. Zinc poisoning is a very dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition and, while treatable, is best avoided through basic preventive measures.

You may be able to lower your risk of zinc poisoning by:

  • Ensuring paints, varnishes, and other chemicals are properly put away after use

  • Ensuring proper storage of products containing zinc

  • Limiting your exposure to paints, rubber products, industrial solvents, and other chemicals known to contain zinc

  • Reading and following dosing instructions for vitamins and minerals containing zinc

How is zinc poisoning treated?

As zinc poisoning is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition, it is vitally important to seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms you believe may be associated with zinc poisoning. Call the American Association of Poison Control Centers (1-800-222-1222) if you or someone you are with has been exposed to zinc and shows signs of poisoning. It is helpful to be able to identify the source of the zinc, whether through exposure or ingestion, as well as the estimated time and level of exposure. Treatment will focus on stabilizing the patient, supporting breathing and circulation, and may also involve measures to remove the zinc from the body.

What are the potential complications of zinc poisoning?

Failure to seek immediate treatment for suspected zinc poisoning can result in serious or even life-threatening potential complications. If treated immediately, you are much more likely to make a full recovery from zinc poisoning, particularly if symptoms are mild and exposure to the toxin was low. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by seeking immediate medical attention and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of zinc poisoning include:

  • Brain damage
  • Organ failure
  • Shock
  • Unconsciousness and coma
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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