Iron poisoning occurs when a person, usually a child, swallows a large number of iron-containing pills, most often vitamins.
Acute iron poisoning mainly involves children younger than 6 years who swallow pediatric or adult vitamins containing iron. These children may not be able or willing to tell you what and how much they swallowed.
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Iron salt is available in multiple preparations. For instance, ferrous sulfate is available as drops, syrup, elixir, capsules, and tablets.
Iron preparations are widely used and are available without a prescription and may be housed in bottles with or without child resistant closures.
The amount of iron that will cause poisoning depends upon the size of the child. An 8-year-old may show no symptoms from an amount that would cause serious symptoms in a 3-year-old. Symptoms appear at doses greater than 10 mg/kg (based on the body weight of the child).
Iron is available in different oral forms.
A child may show no symptoms after eating a number of pills that might have looked like candy. The only evidence may be an opened vitamin bottle. If you know, or even suspect, that a child has eaten tablets, you should consult a hospital’s emergency department or a poison control center regarding a possible iron poisoning.
Iron Poisoning Causes
Iron pills, especially children’s multivitamin tablets, can look like candy to children.
Intentional overdose can occur among adults, but is rare.
Iron Poisoning Symptoms
Symptoms of iron poisoning usually become evident within 6 hours after an excessive amount of iron is swallowed. Iron corrodes your intestinal lining and is a direct irritant to the stomach. People with iron poisoning can have the following symptoms:
Dehydration and lethargy if not treated adequately
In a child, bloody vomit or stool
Often, after supportive care, the gastrointestinal symptoms appear to improve within 6 to 24 hours after their onset. If profound poisoning is inadequately treated, shock and death can occur.
The amount of iron ingested may give a clue to potential toxicity. The therapeutic dose for iron deficiency anemia is 3-6 mg/kg/day. Toxic effects begin to occur at doses above 10-20 mg/kg of elemental iron. Ingestions of more than 50 mg/kg of elemental iron are associated with severe toxicity.
When to Seek Medical Care
Call your doctor, local poison control center, or go directly to the closest hospital’s emergency department if you suspect your child has swallowed iron-containing vitamins, even if your child shows no symptoms. Bring the container with you.
If you find your child among iron pills or pill containers, or your child tells you he or she swallowed pills, take the child to a hospital's emergency department.