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First Aid for Silica Gel Poisoning

Last updated March 5, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Silica Gel Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (consumption) of the compound. It is a common occurrence among young children.

What is Silica Gel Poisoning?

  • Silica gel is commonly used as a desiccant or drying agent to keep moisture away, typically from small closed spaces (shoe boxes, handbags, electronic equipment cartons, etc.)
  • Silica gel is essentially the compound silicon dioxide and it is non-toxic. These small, clear, granular beads are often packaged in small permeable bags made of cloth or fabric
  • Silica Gel Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (consumption) of the compound. It is a common occurrence among young children
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Silica Gel Poisoning may be also referred to as Silica Gel Toxicity.

What are the Causes of Silica Gel Poisoning?

  • Silica Gel Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of silica gel (clear, small, spherical balls)
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Pure silica gel is generally non-poisonous or minimally-toxic, but it is not meant for human consumption. But, in some cases, moisture indicators (such as cobalt chloride) that are used to lace silica gel may be toxic

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Silica Gel Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Silica Gel Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Choking hazard, especially in young children
  • Breathing difficulties due to respiratory tract irritation
  • Throat irritation and pain
  • Irritation of the stomach lining
  • If eye contact occurs, it can result in eye irritation and pain
  • Stomach pain, in some cases

Note: Even though silica gel packets are labelled variously as “DO NOT EAT” or “HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED”, the substance is not poisonous. However, it may pose choking hazard in very young children. Hence, these products should be kept away from children.

How is First Aid administered for Silica Gel Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Silica Gel Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance, if the individual/child is choking
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If exposure of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Give the poisoned individual water to drink
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

Generally, adequate home care is sufficient treatment and hospitalization will not be necessary. However, in case of any emergencies, the emergency medical health professional may take the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Silica Gel Poisoning?

First aid for Silica Gel Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Silica Gel Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Silica Gel Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • Silica gel is a non-poisonous substance, and hence, the condition is not very dangerous. In most of the cases, early recovery is reported

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Silica Gel Poisoning be Prevented?

Silica Gel Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • While disposing silica gel packets, break the packet and disperse the silica gel beads, to prevent them from being ingested/swallowed
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 7, 2017
Last updated: March 5, 2018