Silica gel ingestion is associated with mild to severe medical conditions, depending upon which type of gel is taken. While clear silica gel is nearly harmless, the indicator silica gel made with cobalt chloride is poisonous. Read on, to find out more…
Despite the name, silica gel is available in form of dust, solid crystals, and beads. Silica gel is used for packing goods that are prone to moisture damage, like computer parts, binocular, camera, leather shoes, electronic, clothing apparel, food, and even medication. It acts as a desiccant, and adsorbs excess moisture to prevent spoilage of packaged valuables. Considering the fact that silica gel packets are popularly added in packaging, they are frequently encountered in and around the house. And dealing with accidental ingestion of silica gel in babies and pet animals is not new to medical experts.
Desiccant Silica Gel Ingestion
Chemically, silica gel is a highly porous, amorphous silicon dioxide, produced in crystal or bead forms. The packets we found inside products are nothing but beads of this gel filled in a vapor permeable bag. Having high affinity for moisture, they aid in regulating local humidity in closed containers. You might have already notice the label that clearly instructs not to eat them. But, what are the dangers of ingesting silica gel? Truly speaking, this silica version is a stable and non-toxic drying agent. Otherwise, it would not have been used for food packaging and packaging therapeutic medication.
The commonly used silica gel is categorized under Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by FDA. In brief words, it is biologically an inert substance. Besides this clear gel, there is another type of silica gel doped with blue-colored, moisture indicator agent (cobalt chloride). It shows rough humidity level by changing its color to pink, when exposed to moisture. The cobalt chloride used in formulation of this silica gel is carcinogenic in nature. As a consequence, ingestion of this indicator gel causes poisoning effects to the body, which should be addressed therapeutically without delay.
What Happens if Silica Gel is Ingested?
The effects of ingesting silica gel may be mild to severe, based on the gel form. If the ingested desiccant pack is of vitreous type, it may lead to mild digestive tract problems and at times, choking. For such a case, the dangers of silica gel ingestion are due to excess moisture holding capacity of the beads. Since silica gel adsorbs water molecules in large amounts, ingestion poses the risk of dehydration. Commonly reported adverse effects of ingesting silica gel are listed below:
- Dryness of nasal cavity
- Throat irritation
- Dry eyes
- Abdominal discomfort
The first and foremost step to deal with accidental ingestion of silica gel by baby is inducing to throw up (if possible). Following this, give lots of water to the baby. Although, such a case is not considered a medical emergency, the after effects should be monitored carefully under the supervision of a health expert. The dust form of silicon dioxide is applied in crop cultivation for controlling insects and pests. It is also used for long-term storage of food grains, wherein it kills infested bugs by desiccation.
Direct exposure to powder form of silica gel causes eye and skin irritation, while inhalation of the same aggravates the mucous lining of the nasal passages and lungs. Symptoms that are likely to exhibit after breathing in of airborne silica gel include irritation in the respiratory tract and cough. The medical symptoms will subside gradually, as the body expels it from the lungs and other respiratory organs. Unfortunately, there is no clear data concerning the exposure limit of silica gel.
As far as ingestion of indicator silica gel is concerned, immediate medical attention is crucial to avoid further health complications. One word of caution regarding artificially made, amorphous silica gel is, it gets converted to crystalline silica under high temperature condition. This crystalline version is toxic, and inhaling it is responsible for causing occupational lung disease, called silicosis. In order to avoid this and the side effects, it is recommended to throw away desiccant packets in safe disposable sites.