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First Aid for Starch Poisoning

Last updated March 4, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Starch is a versatile complex carbohydrate that forms an essential component of one’s daily diet. Starch is used in various products including in the manufacture of beverages (beer and whiskey), gypsum boards, textiles, cosmetics, in the paper industry, and as a stiffening agent (laundry starch).


What is Starch Poisoning?

  • Starch is a versatile complex carbohydrate that forms an essential component of one’s daily diet
  • In its pure form, starch is mostly non-toxic; but, commercially-used starch may contain certain chemical substances that may be toxic
  • Starch is used in various products including in the manufacture of beverages (beer and whiskey), gypsum boards, textiles, cosmetics, in the paper industry, and as a stiffening agent (laundry starch)
  • Starch Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the compound
  • 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)

Starch Poisoning may be also referred to as the following:

  • Cooking Starch Poisoning
  • Laundry Starch Poisoning
  • Starch Toxicity

What are the Causes of Starch Poisoning?

  • Starch Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of starch, usually cooking starch or laundry starch
  • Frequently, starch is in the form of a powder, and it may be inadvertently inhaled or splashed into the eye
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Pure forms of the substance are generally non-toxic, but industrial starch and commercially-used starch may contain many toxic chemical compounds

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 Starch Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Starch Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Long-term ingestion or overdosing of starch may present the following signs and symptoms:

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Pain affecting the stomach or abdomen
  • Decreased urine output; absence of urine output
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Formation of blisters on the skin; flaking skin
  • Bluish discoloration of the lips and underneath the fingernails
  • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Twitching of muscles (especially facial and limb muscles)
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Breathing-in of starch may lead to breathing difficulties, wheezing; and, pain and tightness in the chest
  • If the eye is exposed to starch, it can result in redness, watering of the eyes, irritation, and pain

When large amounts of starch are swallowed, it can lead to sudden bowel obstruction and acute abdominal pain.

How is First Aid administered for Starch Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Starch Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • 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
  • Following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give water or milk to drink
  • In case of symptoms that indicate difficulty in swallowing including vomiting or decreased alertness, do not give anything by way of mouth
  • If involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

Note: Generally, Cooking Starch Poisoning is a non-serious condition. With appropriate and adequate home care, the individual may recover completely, without any severe symptoms being noted. However, this may not be the case for Laundry Starch Poisoning.

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining compound
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Starch Poisoning?

First aid for Starch 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 Starch Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Starch 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
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms, with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is good. In most cases, Starch Poisoning is not a dangerous condition
  • Starch used in cooking is generally non-toxic; but, starch used for other non-cooking purposes (such as laundry) can contain toxic chemicals and this may result in severe side effects

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 Starch Poisoning be Prevented?

Starch 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
  • 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: July 9, 2017
Last updated: March 4, 2018