I made a bowl of oatmeal for my toddler and asked him, “Do you want it salty or sweet?” to which he responded that he wanted it salty. I sprinkled a little salt on the oatmeal and brought it to his little table. I walked down the hallway to quickly change my clothes as I heard my toddler rapidly scoot to the kitchen and back. Before I could turn back to accompany him while he munched on his oatmeal, he ran to me in the room saying, “Too salty! Too salty.”
He was drooling. He had salt on his shirt. I thought to myself that he grabbed the salt, poured too much on his oatmeal, took a bite, then spit it out. I gave him some water and told him to swish to get the flavor out of his mouth, but moments later he began vomiting. I eventually learned that he must have taken a swig of salt after swiping it from the kitchen. He started looking a little pale, and my husband asked if perhaps the iodine in the salt could be making him feel sick.
I had no idea if there could be such a thing as iodine poisoning from salt, so I called the National Poison Center hotline. I had given him water to counter the salt in his system, but the Poison Center representative advised me not to give him any more water, because the water could make the symptoms even worse. The representative asked me if my son was still vomiting, and after a very short time had passed, he vomited again. She promptly called our local hospital and alerted the emergency room staff of our arrival and sent us to the E.R. My son had salt poisoning. Suddenly, my concern elevated to panic. We quickly got him into our van and started off for the hospital.
The ride to the hospital was one of the longest rides I’ve ever taken into town. The hospital was 20 miles from our home, and during the ride there, my son became extremely lethargic. His eyes were opening and closing and began turning as if he was experiencing rapid eye movement during sleep. His demeanor was incredibly unusual and very frightening. We kept trying to keep his attention to keep him from going to sleep.
When we got to the hospital, the staff admitted him rather quickly. A nurse took a blood sample and he was soon hooked up to an intravenous. As he lay on the medical table lethargically, I continued to talk to him to keep his attention. At one point, he began mumbling with slurred speech. He then mumbled, “My hands so” something. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, then he repeated, “My hand is so big.” I was worried that he was losing consciousness.
The doctor came in and told us that the sodium levels in his blood were very high, but that he was stabilizing. The doctor was very surprised that my son could have ingested so much salt. She said that normally, the taste of the salt causes kids to spit it out. Since I did not see him eat the salt, I won’t ever know with certainty how he ate that much salt. My son got better, and we waited four hours in the hospital to ensure a safe recovery. The hospital staff reassured me that it was okay to let him fall asleep, and so he did. The next day I asked him how he ate so much salt, and all he would say was, “I ate too much salt.” I think he attempted to eat the salt directly from the container and that so much salt came out at once, he instinctively swallowed before spitting much of it out.
I never would have imagined that a food item we keep in the kitchen could be a potentially fatal poison. What I just described happened extremely quickly. I gave him some oatmeal and walked less than 20 feet away to quickly change some clothes in a room with the door open. I don’t think even a full minute passed from the time I went into the room to the time he came to me with a salty shirt complaining about the taste in his mouth. He had gotten salt poisoning in what seems to be a blink of an eye.
I’m sharing this story for a number of reasons. Firstly, salt in the original container should be treated as a hazardous chemical. If we had salt shakers, he probably would not have been able to ingest the salt so quickly. I know that my son liked salt. Salt tastes good when used sparingly. I rarely used salt on his food, and when I did, I used it sparingly. Salt was a novelty to him, so when I asked him if he wanted salty oatmeal, he got the idea to get even more salt. Secondly, my son’s experience with salt poisoning reminded me that excessive salt really is very unhealthy. The experience gave me pause about eating and feeding my family foods high in sodium. While we may not get salt poisoning from eating relatively salty foods on a regular basis, I can’t help but think that excessive salt over time truly is detrimental to good health.
Excessive salt intake causes high blood pressure, kidney stress and fluid retention. The Mayo Clinic reports that the average American ingests about 1100 mg of salt more than the maximum recommended intake of sodium. The Mayo Clinic also warns that chronic excessive intake of salt could possibly lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure. Since children are especially sensitive to the effects of excessive salt, it’s really important to recognize that the excessive salt in the adult diet could be particularly harmful to young children.