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 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 a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
- 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.
Seek immediate medical help.
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.
In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. 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 health care 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)
In serious cases medicines, called chelators, which remove zinc from the bloodstream may be needed, and the person may need to be hospitalized.
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.
Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.
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. Elsevier Saunders; 2007;chap 75.
Update Date 1/23/2015
Updated by: 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.