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.
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
Poison Control, or a local emergency number
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.
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.
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 suddenly start about 4 to 12 hours after exposure.
Either way, long-term recovery is very likely.
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.
Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.