Cadmium is a heavy metal that is highly toxic, even in low doses. The most common uses of cadmium include electroplating, some industrial paints and some types of batteries. Lethal exposure to cadmium sometimes occurs when welders have unknowingly welded or soldered metal alloys containing cadmium. The side effects of cadmium exposure can generally be divided into acute symptoms caused by a brief exposure to a large dose of cadmium versus chronic symptoms caused by repeated exposure to low doses.
Nausea and Vomiting
Ingestion of a large dose of cadmium can cause severe gastrointestinal effects. This type of acute poisoning sometimes results when an acidic food or beverage is stored in a container lined with a cadmium glaze and the cadmium leeches into the food or beverage, explains the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. When a person ingests a high amount of cadmium, nausea and vomiting are the most immediate result. Abdominal cramps and pain may also occur, combined with diarrhea. A very intense exposure may cause hemorrhaging of the digestive tract and severe damage to the liver, kidneys and heart, resulting in death.
Inhalation of a high levels of cadmium can also cause severe, life-threatening effects on the lungs. If a high concentration of cadmium reaches the lungs, symptoms usually do not appear for 4 to 10 hours, at which point the tiny air sacks in the lungs, the alveoli, may begin to hemorrhage, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports. The person may experience fever and chills. Cadmium may also increase blood flow to the lungs, further complicating the alveolar hemorrhage. The lungs may also become inflamed and swell, causing difficulty breathing. Blood clots may form in the small blood vessels throughout the lungs. The effects usually worsen over time and may result in permanent lung damage or death.
Chronic exposure to low levels of cadmium often causes the metal to accumulate in the kidneys. As levels of cadmium in the kidneys rise, the kidneys may become damaged, reducing kidney function and causing protein to be excreted in the urine, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Continuous, prolonged exposure to cadmium may result in kidney failure, a life-threatening condition.
Prolonged exposure to cadmium has been known to cause cancer. Lung cancer and prostate cancer are the two types of cancer most commonly caused by chronic cadmium exposure, reports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Other lung diseases, including bronchitis and emphysema, may result from chronic inhalation of low doses of cadmium, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services explains. Cases of bone disease, including osteoporosis and osteomalcia, have also been reported. In addition, chronic cadmium exposure has been linked to teeth discoloration, loss of the sense of smell and anemia, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration