Zinc is an essential mineral found in a variety of foods. It plays a vital role in many bodily functions, such as immune system support and wound healing. However, too much zinc can be harmful. In this article you will learn about the sources, causes, symptoms, and treatment of zinc poisoning.

Zinc Toxicity Causes

There are several different ways that a person can develop zinc toxicity. The most common way is by ingesting too much zinc. This can happen if a person consumes excessive amounts of zinc supplements or works in an occupation that involves exposure to zinc, including zinc fumes.

Where Can You Find Zinc?

Zinc can be found in many compounds including:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Contaminated food or beverage
  • Industrial products such as paint, dyes, wood preservative, and rust prevention coatings
  • Zinc compounds such as zinc chloride, zinc oxide, zinc acetate, zinc sulphate
  • Zinc fumes from heated galvanized metals
  • Cosmetic skin creams

Zinc Poisoning Symptoms

Symptoms of zinc poisoning may include:

  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessing sweating
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Seizures
  • No urine output
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rash
  • Yellow eyes or yellow skin


The first step in treating zinc poisoning is to remove the person from the exposure. If the person has breathed in zinc fumes, they should be moved to fresh air immediately. If the person has ingested zinc, they should be given water or milk to drink. This will help to dilute the zinc in their system. Milk helps to bind excess zinc and prevent the stomach from absorbing it.

The next step is to call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or poison control (1-800-222-1222 in the US). They will be able to give you further instructions on how to treat the person. It is important to follow their instructions carefully.

Be ready with the following information before you call:

  • Person’s name, age, and weight
  • Person’s condition
  • What was swallowed
  • Amount that was swallowed

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Your health provider will monitor the person’s vital signs (temperature, breathing, pulse, and blood pressure) and treat symptoms depending on which ones appear. Expect to also receive one or more of the following treatments:

  • Bronchodilators and oxygen support
  • Chelating medication to bind zinc
  • Fever reduction medication
  • Fluid by mouth or vein
  • Proton pump inhibitors to reduce zinc absorption
  • Laxative

The following procedures may also be performed:

  • Blood and urine test for zinc
  • Chest test x-ray
  • CT scan or advanced imaging
  • ECG (electrocardiogram)


Zinc poisoning is a serious condition that can occur if you are exposed to too much zinc such as zinc supplements, industrial chemicals or fumes. It is important to call 911 or poison control immediately if you are experiencing symptoms. Your health provider will treat symptoms as well as apply medical interventions to reduce zinc absorption, dilute and chelate zinc in the blood.

Courtney Simons
Courtney Simons is a food science professor. He holds a BS degree in food science and a Ph.D. in cereal science from North Dakota State University. He also holds Masters degrees in both Environmental Science and Instructional Design from Wright State University.
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