Causes Of Selenium Poisoning In Humans: Symptoms & Treatment

Selenium is a mineral which is very vital for the body in small quantities, chiefly to synthesize enzymes; what’s more, it can be really toxic in huge amounts. The reasonable upper level of the intake of selenium is 400 mcg per day; consuming 800 mcg per day causes toxicity and 5 mg is lethal.

Selenium poisoning does not have an antidote, thus, recognizing the symptoms is crucial for survival.

Selenium is used in paints, plastics, glass, photographic devices, gun cleaning solvents, anti-dandruff shampoos, vitamin and mineral supplements, and fungicides.

Selenium Toxicity Symptoms In Humans

Selenium affects the GI tract, respiratory system, hair, skin and nails, as well as the nervous system.

  • Respiratory symptoms of selenium toxicity are – coughing, bronchitis, garlicky breath, pneumonia, decreased respiratory rate, pulmonary edema and even death.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms of selenium poisoning are – metallic taste in the mouth, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and pain in the abdomen.
  • Selenium toxicity causes the hair to become brittle, hair loss, deformed and brittle nails, sloughing off of the nails, discoloration of the teeth, tooth decay and discolored skin.
  • Neurological signs comprise of – irritability, exhaustion, lethargy, decreased mental agility, hand tremors, tingling or loss of sensation in the arms or legs, decreased blood pressure, unconsciousness and death.

What Causes Selenium Toxicity In Humans?

At some places, the soil has high levels of selenium. This may lead to buildup in the plants as well as damage the livestock that feeds on these plants. Those who consume crops, vegetables or animal products in these regions will be exposed to large amounts of selenium.

Furthermore, too much selenium supplementation triggers poisoning, every now and then, because selenium levels are given in micrograms and some people mistake it for milligrams.

Ingestion of excessive amounts of selenium, such as a regular consumption of Brazil nuts which provide you 90 mcg of the mineral per nut is an important cause.

There are a host of plants which are known to concentrate selenium which is absorbed from the soil, these are called selenium accumulators. In comparison with normal plant’s selenium content of 10 ppm, even when grown on selenium-rich soil, these plants which accumulate selenium can have selenium concentrations in thousands of ppm, which is considerable.

After selenium inhalation, the most lethal compound formed is hydrogen selenide. Other toxic compounds are – selenium dioxide and selenium sulfide.

Exposure to selenium is predominantly via food, and in some areas with seleniferous soils, via drinking water. Airborne exposure to selenium is rather rare; on the other hand, occupational exposure occurs with chemical processes for recovery of the mineral and painting and the metal industries. Probable sources of toxic levels of selenium are Astragalus and copper ingestion.

How To Get Rid Of Selenium Toxicity?

Selenium poisoning and toxicity has no treatment / antidote; hence, it is very vital to rush to the emergency room and get prompt medical aid if symptoms become apparent. The most vital aspect of the treatment is supportive care, managing the symptoms effectively and preventing a further exposure.

Chelation is not advisable, given that, clinical studies show that it may increase the toxicity and worsen the case. Emesis is also not advocated, more so, if a caustic compound such as selenite is involved. Once the cause has been identified, it is essential to steer clear of whatever is causing the poisoning.