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Sorbitol Side Effects

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 7, 2022.

For the Consumer

Applies to sorbitol: irrigation solution

Other dosage forms:

What are some side effects that I need to call my doctor about right away?

WARNING/CAUTION: Even though it may be rare, some people may have very bad and sometimes deadly side effects when taking a drug. Tell your doctor or get medical help right away if you have any of the following signs or symptoms that may be related to a very bad side effect:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction, like rash; hives; itching; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin with or without fever; wheezing; tightness in the chest or throat; trouble breathing, swallowing, or talking; unusual hoarseness; or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Severe diarrhea.
  • Shortness of breath, a big weight gain, or swelling in the arms or legs.
  • Signs of fluid and electrolyte problems like mood changes, confusion, muscle pain or weakness, a heartbeat that does not feel normal, very bad dizziness or passing out, fast heartbeat, more thirst, seizures, feeling very tired or weak, not hungry, unable to pass urine or change in the amount of urine produced, dry mouth, dry eyes, or very bad upset stomach or throwing up.
  • Signs of high blood sugar like confusion, feeling sleepy, more thirst, more hungry, passing urine more often, flushing, fast breathing, or breath that smells like fruit.
  • Chest pain.
  • Blurred eyesight.

What are some other side effects of this drug?

All drugs may cause side effects. However, many people have no side effects or only have minor side effects. Call your doctor or get medical help if you have any side effects that bother you or do not go away.

These are not all of the side effects that may occur. If you have questions about side effects, call your doctor. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-332-1088. You may also report side effects at

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to sorbitol: compounding powder, irrigation solution, oral liquid


Gastrointestinal side effects have included sudden severe abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and osmotic diarrhea.[Ref]


Metabolic side effects have included reports of hypernatremia. These reports have primarily been associated with multiple administrations of activated charcoal sorbitol preparations.[Ref]

One case study describes a 37-year-old patient who presented with phencyclidine intoxication. The patient was given four doses of activated charcoal in sorbitol and 1 dose of magnesium citrate over a 12-hour period of time. Lab results showed an increase in the serum sodium from 138 mmol/L to 165 mmol/L. The hypernatremia continued to worsen after the magnesium citrate was discontinued. It was felt that the increase was due to the repeated sorbitol administration. Other adult cases of hypernatremia secondary to activated charcoal-sorbitol regimens have been reported in the literature.[Ref]


1. Henley E "Sorbitol-based elixirs, diarrhea and enteral tube feeding [letter]." Am Fam Physician 55 (1997): 2084,2086

2. Andritz MH, Govel LA, Johnston KR "Gastrointestinal effects of sorbitol as an additive in liquid medications." Am J Med 97 (1994): 185-91

3. Hoekstra JH, Kneepkens CM "Fruit juice and chronic nonspecific diarrhea [letter; comment]." J Pediatr 122 (1993): 499

4. Breitenbach RA "'Halloween diarrhea'. An unexpected trick of sorbitol-containing candy." Postgrad Med 92 (1992): 63-6

5. Barone JA, Jessen LM "Ready-mix charcoal/sorbitol [letter; comment]." Ann Emerg Med 21 (1992): 110-1

6. Aaron CK, McNamara RM, Davidheiser S, Gemborys M "Sorbitol catharsis does not enhance efficacy of charcoal in a simulated acetaminophen overdose." Ann Emerg Med 17 (1988): 243-6

7. Krenzelok E "Sorbitol--a safe and effective cathartic [letter]." Ann Emerg Med 16 (1987): 729-30

8. Goldfrank LR, Howland MA, Hoffman RS, Mercurio M, Wang RY, Wax PM "Prevalence of sorbitol in multiple-dose activated charcoal regimens in emergency departments." Ann Emerg Med 22 (1993): 1807-12

9. Craig WJ, Payne ML, Williams AC "Sorbitol is a possible risk factor for diarrhea in young children [published erratum appears in J Am Diet Assoc 1997 Oct;97(10):1090." J Am Diet Assoc 97 (1997): 532-4

10. James LP, King WD, Nichols MH "A comparison of cathartics in pediatric ingestions." Pediatrics 96 (1995): 235-8

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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