What Are the Side Effects of Activated Charcoal Tablets?

Updated July 19, 2017

Activated charcoal is administerd when someone is poisoned. explains that the charcoal helps to absorb the poison and carry it out of the body. It may also be used to treat gas, diarrhoea, upset stomach and high cholesterol. There are many side effects associated with activated charcoal use that can be mild or severe.

Allergic Reaction

If you are taking this drug to treat conditions such as gas, diarrhoea, upset stomach or high cholesterol, it is possible that you may experience an allergic reaction to activated charcoal. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include chest pain, difficulty breathing, hives, rash and itching, states Other symptoms include swelling of the mouth, face, lips and tongue. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these.

Side Effects: Gastrointestinal

Gastrointestinal side effects are common in those being treated with activated charcoal tablets. explains that those treated with charcoal due to poisoning have vomited and had small bowel obstruction. Charcoal is tasteless and can coat the tongue, mouth and throat, thus patients have experienced a chalklike taste in their mouths. Black coloured stools, nausea and stomach pain have also been reported, informs In more serious cases, puncturing of the GI tract has occurred.

Side Effects: Metabolic/Respiratory

Metabolic side effects usually occur when charcoal and sorbitol are combined, explains Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is slowly metabolised by the body. Patients using charcoal multiple times may experience high sodium counts, as well as high magnesium counts. In serious cases, explains that dehydration and shock have been reported. Respiratory side effects include a formation of pus in the chest cavity (empyema), inflammation of the bronchiols and Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

Additonal Side Effects

Further side effects may occur and can be quite serious. It has been reported that patients who get charcoal in their eyes can have corneal abrasions, explains Be sure to clean your hands and not touch your eyes while handling charcoal tablets. Variegate porphyria may also occur, according to Symptoms of this condition include lesions on the skin, increased urination and elevated levels of plasma porphyrins.

Considerations and tell patients to not take any allergy medications or dietary medications while being treated with activated charcoal. Mixing these medications can increase the risk of adverse effects. Speak with your doctor if you have any gastrointestinal problems such as bleeding, if you are pregnant or if you are allergic to any drugs. In these cases, you may not be able to use activated charcoal or your dose may need to be adjusted.

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About the Author

Heidi Maines has a master's degree from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She has published in the "Journal of Dermatology for Physician Assistants" and interned as a sports copy editor at "The Syracuse Post-Standard." Maines worked as a copywriter for an online publishing company called Virtucom Group, and was promoted to assistant editor, her current position.