Are silica gel freshness packets toxic?

Included in some medications, here's what to do if a child accidentally ingests one

Published: June 07, 2015 12:00 PM

Q. My two-year old daughter got a hold of the little packet that comes in her pill container. She tore it open and put some of the beads in the packet in her mouth. Are those beads toxic? And what should I do?

The good news is that although those packets are stamped with the phrase “DO NOT EAT,” the beads inside aren’t actually poisonous. They're made of silica, a nontoxic agent used in certain containers of medication, dietary supplements, and vitamins to absorb moisture and keep the pills dry.

“They are not toxic or posionous in any way,” confirms Keith Boesen, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (APDIC). “The main concern they pose is that they are a choking hazard.”

If your child is choking after accidentally swallowing silica beads, then call 9-1-1, Boesen says. But if your child isn’t choking and is eating and drinking without a problem, then there’s no need to go to the emergency room or hospital, he adds. The silica beads will pass through their system without being absorbed.  

If you're still worried, contact your local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222, says Liz Barta, a nurse and health education specialist at APDIC. The free, confidential number works in any part of the U.S. and automatically connects you to experts at your nearest poison control center.  

Worried that your child might be sick from something they swallowed? Contact your local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222.

It might be tempting to remove and throw away the freshness packet to avoid the risk of your child accidentally swallowing it, but it’s best to leave it in, says Barbara Young, Pharm.D., editor of consumer-medication information for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Some tablets and capsules are sensitive to moisture, so these packets can help protect them from humidity. Case in point: freshness packets included with the blood thinner vorapaxa (Zontivity) should not be removed, according to the drug's label. And, dabigatran (Pradaxa), another blood thinner, has special freshness packaging built into the cap, so it's recommended to keep those pills in their original container.

Finally, always store medication in a high, safe place, so that your child cannot reach or access it.

—Steve Mitchell

Editor's Note:

This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

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