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Charcoal / sorbitol Side Effects

Applies to charcoal/sorbitol: oral suspension


Gastrointestinal side effects have frequently included nausea and vomiting (13% to 30%) and constipation. Bowel obstruction, ileus, chalk-like taste, perforation of the gastrointestinal tract and subsequent charcoal peritoneum, diarrhea, and black colored stools have also been reported.[Ref]

A young woman developed a surgically acute abdomen following orogastric lavage and charcoal administration. Laparotomy revealed charcoal throughout the peritoneum. Complications included peritonitis, adhesions, abscess formation, persistent peritoneal charcoal deposits, oophorectomy, and small bowel resection.

A case of a charcoal bezoar and small bowel obstruction following administration of 30 to 60 grams of activated charcoal via nasogastric tube every 4 to 6 hours for 5 days has been reported.

In a study of 275 patients, 18 years old or younger, 20.4% (56/275) experienced vomiting within < 1 to 120 minutes (mean of 10 minutes) following enteral administration of 1 g/kg (no more than 50 g) of activated charcoal for acute poison ingestion. The following risk factors for vomiting were identified: nausea, a vomiting occurrence prior to charcoal ingestion, presence of signs or symptoms of poisoning (exclusive of nausea &/or vomiting), age > 12 years, administration by nasogastric or orogastric tube, and ingestion of emetogenic drug or chemical. Charcoal with sorbitol solution did not appear to significantly increase the risk of vomiting.

Bowel obstruction and ileus have occurred with multiple dose administration.

Although charcoal is tasteless, it adheres to the surfaces of the mouth and tongue, producing a chalk-like taste which can be unpalatable.[Ref]


Corneal abrasions may occur if charcoal comes in contact with eyes.[Ref]

Ocular side effects have included corneal abrasions.[Ref]


Metabolic side effects result primarily from the sorbitol and have included electrolyte abnormalities, dehydration, and shock.[Ref]


Bronchiolitis obliterans and empyema have occurred due to charcoal aspiration following emesis.

Accidental administration of charcoal directly into the lungs has resulted in Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome.[Ref]

Respiratory side effects have included bronchiolitis obliterans, empyema, and Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome.[Ref]


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2. Ray MJ, Radin DR, Condie JD, Halls JM, Padin DR "Charcoal bezoar. Small-bowel obstruction secondary to amitriptyline overdose therapy [published erratum appears in Dig Dis Sci 1988 Oct;33(10):1344]." Dig Dis Sci 33 (1988): 106-7

3. Orisakwe OE "Activated charcoal: is failure to use it negligence or ignorance?" South Med J 87 (1994): 165-8

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6. Atkinson SW, Young Y, Trotter GA "Treatment with activated charcoal complicated by gastrointestinal obstruction requiring surgery." BMJ 305 (1992): 563

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8. Watson WA "Comment: misadventures with activated charcoal." Ann Pharmacother 29 (1995): 84-5

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10. Lopes de Freitas JM, Ferreira MG, Brito MJ "Charcoal deposits in the esophageal and gastric mucosa." Am J Gastroenterol 92 (1997): 1359-60

11. McLuckie A, Forbes AM, Ilett KF "Role of repeated doses of oral activated charcoal in the treatment of acute intoxications." Anaesth Intensive Care 18 (1990): 375-84

12. "Product Information. Liqui-Char with Sorbitol (charcoal-sorbitol)." Jones Medical-Western Research, St. Louis, MO.

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15. The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology "Position statements: single-dose activated charcoal Available from: URL:" ([2002 May 23]):

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18. Menzies DG, Busuttil A, Prescott LF "Fatal pulmonary aspiration of oral activated charcoal." BMJ 297 (1988): 459-60

19. Moll J, Kerns W 2nd, Tomaszewski C, Rose R "Incidence of aspiration pneumonia in intubated patients receiving activated charcoal." J Emerg Med 17 (1999): 279-83

20. Harris CR, Filandrinos D "Accidental administration of activated charcoal into the lung: aspiration by proxy." Ann Emerg Med 22 (1993): 1470-3

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25. Tomaszewski C "Activated charcoal--treatment or toxin? [comment]." J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 37 (1999): 17-8

Further information

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Some side effects may not be reported. You may report them to the FDA.