Potassium iodide hazards

Written by christina sloane
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Potassium iodide hazards
(Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Potassium iodide is an inorganic compound. It has medicinal uses in liquid or tablet form. Doctors sometimes use it to treat lung problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and also as a treatment for some thyroid conditions and a fungal skin infection, sporotrichosis. It also protects the thyroid gland in a radiation emergency. Although it has medical uses, potassium iodide can also cause health problems.


Contact with potassium iodide in its pure form, or inhalation of potassium iodide, can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Coughing and shortness of breath accompanies irritation to the respiratory tract, while redness and pain accompanies irritation to the eyes and skin. Large oral doses of potassium iodide can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, which is why doctors recommend taking potassium iodide pills after a full meal and with a large glass of water.


Patients who use potassium iodide may experience side effects such as hives, nausea, vomiting and swelling. These side effects typically go away as the body adjusts to the medication, but in some cases, long-term users develop a more serious condition called iodism. Iodism may involve skin eruptions, runny nose, severe headache, irritation of mucous membranes, and sometimes weakness, anaemia and depression.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

Use of potassium iodide by pregnant or breastfeeding women can cause fetal goitre and hypothyroidism in the foetus or infant. It's usually not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, if authorities recommend use of potassium iodide in a radiation emergency, the Centers for Disease Control does say that pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as infants, should take an appropriate dose. The CDC says they should avoid more than one dose if possible.

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