Treatment for zinc poisoning largely involves relieving the symptoms and maintaining organ function. Specific treatments may depend on the type of ingestion and the zinc levels found in the body. In cases where swallowed objects contribute to the disorder, the object may be removed. Commonly, poisoning is caused when the victim swallows something containing zinc.
Symptoms frequently associated with zinc poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Victims may complain of numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, exhibit a lack of coordination, or experience paralysis because of nerve damage. Individuals who have ingested zinc over extended periods of time may also experience anemia and fatigue from bone marrow suppression. Excessive absorption of the mineral often produces rapid destruction of red blood cells by the spleen, resulting in a jaundiced appearance.
Individuals who suspect that they or someone they know have been poisoned by zinc should seek medical intervention. Patients not experiencing nausea, vomiting, or unconsciousness may drink milk to help line the stomach and flush out the metal. Medical personnel generally assess the patient's vital signs, including body temperature, pulse, and respiration, along with blood pressure. Physical and verbal assessments generally reveal the symptoms being experienced, the source of the poisoning, and the duration of consumption.
Blood samples provide blood cell counts, serum electrolyte and zinc levels. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, the healthcare professional may also require studies of cardiac, kidney, and liver function. Imaging studies maybe requested if the poisoning has occurred because an object either coated with or containing zinc was swallowed.
Patients with zinc poisoning may experience dehydration and low blood pressure, requiring treatment with intravenous fluids. Zinc can prevent the absorption of copper and iron, and may deplete magnesium stores, so patients may require iron and electrolyte replacement.
Any zinc remaining in the stomach may be eliminated using gastric lavage, in which a tube is inserted down the throat or a nasal passageway into the stomach. Fluids are then introduced through the tube, and the stomach contents are suctioned. Solid objects may be allowed to pass normally or removed with polyethylene glycol bowel irrigation or endoscopy. Stomach acid usually dissolves zinc objects, converting them into corrosive zinc chloride. This compound could cause ulcers in the stomach, which may require treatment with H2 antagonists or other anti-ulcer medications.
In recent years, individuals have been diagnosed with zinc poisoning related to the use of creams designed to stabilize ill-fitting dentures. Poisoning can also occur after consuming beverages or foods stored in containers galvanized with zinc. It way also occur if someone swallows a battery or coin or take too many over-the-counter zinc supplements.