Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a powder made from the sediment of fossilized algae and is very high in silica. It has been used since ancient times as a building material. Today, it is most often used as an insecticide that works by drying out the insect. There are also food-grade sources that have become “trendy” dietary supplements, but evidence for this use is lacking.
In accidental exposures, diatomaceous earth is not expected to cause toxicity. If swallowed, it will pass through the stomach and intestines without causing problems. If inhaled, DE can irritate the nose and lungs causing coughing and shortness of breath. On skin or in the eyes, it can cause irritation and dryness.
If you notice that your child has ingested diatomaceous earth, it is important not to panic. Take the substance away from the child and wipe their mouth out with a soft wet cloth. You may give them some water to drink to get the taste out of their mouth. Do not try to induce vomiting. If on the skin wash the exposed area with soap and water. If inhaled get the person to fresh air, if in the eyes, immediately rinse with water.
After you have removed your child from the situation, immediately call the Missouri Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. Treatment recommendations are often determined by the amount ingested and route of exposure. The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions and our team of medical professionals will help to walk you through the next steps.