Iodine is a naturally occurring chemical. Small amounts are needed for good health. However, large doses can cause harm. Children are especially sensitive to the effects of iodine.
NOTE: Iodine is found in certain foods. However, there is normally not enough iodine in foods to harm the body. This article focusses on poisoning from exposure to non-food items that contain iodine.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Iodine is found in:
Chemicals (catalysts) for photography and engraving
Dyes and inks
Radioactive iodine used for certain medical tests or the treatment of thyroid disease
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.
Give the person milk, or cornstarch or flour mixed with water. Continue to give milk every 15 minutes. DO NOT give these items if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful to emergency assistance:
Person's age, weight, and condition (for example, is the person awake or alert?)
Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
Time it was swallowed
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:
Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
Blood and urine tests
EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
Medicines to treat symptoms
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) is a possible complication. Long-term effects of iodine overdose include thyroid gland problems.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2004. Toxicological Profile for iodine. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2011.
Perez A, McKay C. Halogens. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 96.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.