Aug 05, 2016 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Salt is everywhere. It’s in our pantries and on our kitchen tables. It is present in most foods we eat and some beverages we drink. It is essential for our bodies to function properly. However, it also can be dangerous, or in some cases even deadly. Recently a mother in South Carolina made headlines for killing her 17-month old daughter—using just a teaspoon of salt. For many the reaction to the story was not only shock but questions about how that was even possible. “Salt poisoning is a real thing,” says Sherrie Pace with the Utah Poison Control Center. “There are dangerous salt ingestion practices demonstrated on the Internet that some people will follow, and they don’t understand the risk”

Hypernatremia is the medical term for salt poisoning. It refers to high levels of sodium in the blood, which draws water out of the cells. The earliest and most common symptom is thirst. Other symptoms include fatigue, dry mouth, and restlessness. As the condition worsens a patient may have an increased heart rate, muscle spasms, or seizures. In severe cases coma, brain damage, or death may occur.

People with metabolic disorders are most at risk for hypernatremia. However, children also can be unwitting victims. They may get into high salt foods, like soy sauce, and consume too much. Or they may ingest a non-food item with a large amount of salt. “We have had calls where children have eaten homemade play dough,” says Pace. “That has enough salt in it to cause problems if enough is eaten.”

Another common cause of hypernatremia is when people try to make themselves vomit using salt water. They may do this due to an eating disorder, or to try and purge something from their system. The internet lists salt as an emetic to induce vomiting, which is a dangerous practice. “There are cases where someone has tried to induce vomiting to avoid poisoning,” says Pace. “However, the poison is not removed, and the salt causes additional problems even as severe as death.” 

If you, or someone you know, is exhibiting symptoms of salt poisoning, or if your child has accidentally ingested a large amount of salt get help immediately. Treatments range from orally rehydration to intravenous fluids. The important thing is to get help fast. “Do not search the internet for answers. Call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately,” say Pace. “We have toxicology experts available 24 hours a day to help you assess the situation and take appropriate actions.” 

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