Selenium poisoning: What are the signs?

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Selenium is a mineral that is vital to the body in trace amounts to synthesize enzymes but can be deadly if in large amounts.

The tolerable upper intake of selenium is 400 mcg daily while 800 mcg daily can lead to toxicity and a dosage of 5 mg is deadly for most individuals. The mineral does not have any antidote, thus early recognition of the signs is important.

What are the main sources of selenium?

Selenium is utilized in some gun cleaning solutions, photographic devices, paints, plastics, vitamin and mineral supplements, anti-dandruff shampoos, fungicides and even in some forms of glass. It is also utilized in the manufacturing of drugs and as a nutritional feed supplement for poultry and livestock.

What are the indications?

Respiratory issues

The respiratory issues of selenium poisoning include the following:

  • Coughing
  • Irritation of the mucous membranes
    The usual initial signs of toxicity and poisoning due to selenium might involve the hair and nail beds in the feet and hands.
  • Bronchitis
  • Garlic-like breath
  • Bronchial pneumonia
  • Diminished respiratory rate
  • Pulmonary edema

Digestive issues

The GI tract indications of selenium poisoning generally include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Intestinal cramps
  • Bitter metallic taste in the burping

Changes with the hair, nail, teeth and skin

The usual initial signs of toxicity and poisoning due to selenium might involve the hair and nail beds in the feet and hands. The presence of large amounts of selenium results to hair loss, brittle hair and nails, deformed nails, tooth discoloration, deteriorating nails, mottled or discolored skin and tooth decay.

What are the neurological signs?

The neurological indications of selenium poisoning are usually due to damage to the brain tissues and nerves such as:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished mental alertness
  • Listlessness
  • Emotional instability
  • Tingling or loss of sensation in the arms or legs
  • Hand tremors
  • Drop in the blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness and death

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on selenium poisoning is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage this type of poisoning, register for a first aid and CPR course with Mississauga First Aid.

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