Potassium Chloride Dangers

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Potassium, in large doses, can be fatal. (Image: Dewitt/iStock/Getty Images)

Potassium chloride is one of the most versatile chemical compounds available. It is the ingredient used in most salt substitutes. Medically, the National Institutes of Health writes that it is used as a supplement for people who are potassium-deficient, or intravenously for people who may be dehydrated. Commercially, it is available in multiple departments at home improvement centers. While it is undoubtedly a helpful element, potassium chloride is also dangerous when overused or ingested in toxic concentrations.

Hyperkalemia

According to the Mayo Clinic, hyperkalemia is a condition caused by too much potassium in the blood. The kidneys remove potassium from the bloodstream, but kidney functions are typically reduced in hyperkalemics, according to the National Library of Medicine. There are no specific symptoms of hyperkalemia, as those with the condition have irregular heartbeat, weak pulse and/or nausea. The primary result of hyperkalemia is cardiac arrest.

Gastrointestinal Irritation

Overdosing on potassium chloride or ingesting high concentrations, like those used in ice melters or industrial applications, can cause gastrointestinal distress. According to its material safety data sheet, or MSDS, potassium chloride can cause irritation and vomiting. The National Library of Medicine writes that it can ulcerate the lining of the digestive tract, causing bleeding and pain.

Renal Failure

The International Programme on Chemical Safety, or IPCS, reports that renal failure is a result of potassium chloride overdose. The kidneys filter the blood, removing chemicals and impurities. Too much potassium overwhelms the kidneys and poisons them. The resulting shutdown leads to blood toxicity and the potential for cardiac arrest.

Rash and Chemical Burn

Highly-concentrated potassium chloride is known to burn human skin. Simply touching crystals or pellets will not cause a burn, according to the IPCS and its MSDS, as the compound is in a stable state. Potassium chloride is activated when wet. When the human skin comes in contact with the activated chemical, it can burn or ulcerate the skin.

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