The human body uses iodine to maintain normal development and proper metabolic balance. There are many forms of iodine. All of the types that are safe to consume for humans are the iodide form, which includes potassium iodide, sodium iodide (the form added to salt), and nascent iodine. Considering its importance to human health, it may be surprising that some forms of iodine, including elemental iodine, are toxic to humans.
Elemental iodine damages tissue upon contact. High concentrations of iodine solutions can cause chemical burns, or worse. That's why warning labels advise against inducing vomiting if ingested unless otherwise directed by poison control.
Iodine Overdose Symptoms
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Overexposure and overdose can occur with constant, repeated exposure to high concentrations of iodine. An individual could come in contact with high concentrations from tinctures of iodine, such as when using it as an antiseptic or disinfectant. Studies have also shown that iodate (an alternative form of iodine used as a salt additive) ingested in large quantities can have corrosive effects on the gastrointestinal tract.
Other sources of iodine that can cause poisoning are Amiodarone/Cordarone (an anti-arrhythmia drug), Lugol's solution, Pima syrup, potassium iodide, and radioactive iodine used for certain medical tests or thyroid disease.
Symptoms of an Iodine Overdose
Symptoms of an iodine overdose include abdominal pain, delirium, fever, vomiting, and shortness of breath. More serious symptoms can arise, depending on the way the iodine overdose occurred. Here is a brief summary of the various ways an iodine overdose can occur and its resulting effects.
How Does It Happen?
- Ingestion: Oral ingestion can damage the mouth, esophagus, and lungs, resulting in shortness of breath, edema of the glottis (a vocal component of the larynx), or pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs). Vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may follow ingestion along with severe gastroenteritis. A metallic taste may result in the mouth. Renal failure could also follow. Shock may occur and result in an increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and a complete collapse of the circulatory system. It can also affect the brain and cause headaches, dizziness, and delirium.
- Inhalation: Inhaling iodine vapor can cause extreme pulmonary irritation and pulmonary edema.
- Eye Contact: When iodine makes contact with the eyes, it can burn the surface of the eye.
- Skin Contact: Applying strong iodine solutions to the skin can cause chemical burns.
If a large amount of concentrated iodine enters the body, it can cause serious damage and even death. When working with elemental or concentrated iodine, always know the product and how it should be used. Be aware that even though iodine is a necessary nutrient for thyroid and metabolic function, elemental iodine has severe side effects, but, unless you're in a lab or specialized setting, you're unlikely to come across it.
Nascent Iodine: A Safe Form of Iodine
Don't let this article scare you. Iodine deficiency is still a much greater concern than iodine toxicity. Over two billion people worldwide suffer from iodine deficiency. Consult your healthcare professional if you think you're one of them. If they recommend iodine supplementation, then be sure to use safe, high-quality nascent iodine as directed to minimize the risk of overdose. I recommend Detoxadine®. It's a premium, deep-earth sourced, nascent iodine supplement and the natural way to maintain healthy iodine levels.
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- Mao YC, et al. Acute hemolysis following iodine tincture ingestion. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2011 Oct;30(10):1716-1719.
- Medline Plus. Iodine Poisoning. Last accessed 2013-08-06.
- Higdon J, et al. Iodine. Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University, Aug. 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.