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.
What happens if you eat it
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.
What to do
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.