Silica gel is a desiccant, or drying agent, that manufacturers often place in little packets to keep moisture from damaging certain food and commercial products. You may have seen silica packets in everything from beef jerky to the new shoes you bought.
While silica gel is usually nontoxic if ingested, some people have choked on it. For this reason, manufacturers label them “Do not eat.” If a loved one is choking on silica gel, call 911 and seek emergency medical attention.
Unfortunately, children can mistake a packet for food, candy, or a chew toy and eat the silica gel or the entire packet. Sometimes, adults may mistake silica gel packets for salt or sugar packets.
Silica gel is chemically inert. This means it won’t break down in the body and cause poisoning. However, because it won’t break down, the gel or packet and gel can cause choking. That’s why manufacturers often label them with “Do not eat” or “Throw away after using.”
Eating silica gel shouldn’t make you sick. Most often, it’ll pass through your body and exit without any harmful effects to you.
Although silica gel isn’t likely to harm you, this isn’t a license to eat a lot of it. The gel doesn’t have any nutritious value and has the potential to cause intestinal obstruction if eaten in large quantities.
Silica gel and pets
Pet food and toy manufacturers may use silica gel packets to preserve their products. Because the products can smell like food or treats, animals may accidentally ingest the packets.
They aren’t usually toxic to pets either, but they may cause nausea and vomiting.
If you or your child accidentally ingests silica gel, try to help the gel go into the stomach by drinking water.
In rare instances, manufacturers use silica gel that’s coated with cobalt chloride, a toxic compound. If a person ingests cobalt chloride-coated silica gel, it’ll likely cause nausea and vomiting.
If you’re concerned
If you think your child consumed an excessive amount of silica gel or you need some peace of mind, contact your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
They can help you determine if the silica gel could be coated in cobalt chloride or if you need to take any other steps.
Moving forward, you can talk to your child about how the packets aren’t for eating. You can encourage them to bring any packets they see to you to throw away.
You can also throw away any silica packets you come across so your pets and little ones are less likely to find them.
You can also contact your pet’s veterinarian if you suspect they ate one or more silica gel packets. Your vet can give you further advice considering what kind of dog you have and their overall health.
Silica gel is made from silicon dioxide, which is a component naturally found in sand. It has small particles that can absorb significant amounts of water.
Silica gel will either appear as small, clear, round beads or as small, clear rocks. The gel acts as a desiccant, which means that it pulls water out of the air to reduce the likelihood that moisture and mold will damage an item.
Silica gel packets can often be found in the following:
- in bottles of medications and vitamins
- in jacket coat pockets
- in museum display cases to preserve the contents
- in new cellphone and camera boxes
- with shoes and purses
Manufacturers started labeling silica gel packets with more alarming language — some even have a skull and crossbones — because the Poison Control Centers started to report more incidences of people swallowing the packets on accident. Most of the cases involved children under 6.
If your child has eaten a silica gel packet and vomits several times or can’t keep anything down, seek emergency medical attention.
You should also seek emergency attention if your child has severe stomach pain or can’t pass gas or stool. These symptoms could indicate your child has an intestinal obstruction from the silica gel packet.
If you have a pet that has eaten a silica gel packet, take them to the veterinarian if they’re not passing stool as you’d expect, they vomit up any food they eat, or if their abdomen appears swollen.
While silica gel may have some scary warnings on its label, the gel is nontoxic unless you eat a lot of it. Because it’s a choking hazard and has no nutritious value, it’s best to throw away the packets away if you see them.
While it’s not fun to worry about accidentally ingesting silica gel, know that it does happen and by all indications, you, your child, or pet will be OK.