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Metal Fume Fever?

Many welders get flu-like symptoms after welding. The effects are often worse at the start of the working week. Metal fume fever is usually linked to welding or hot work on galvanised metals. High exposures to mild steel weld fume can also cause this illness.


Metal Fume Fever produces symptoms similar to flu such as fever, chills, headache, nausea, dizziness, coughing, shortness of breath, pneumonia, chest pain, lack of appetite, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pains, and low or high blood pressure. Severe metal toxicity may additionally cause a burning sensation in the body, shock, no urine output, collapse, convulsions, yellow eyes or skin, rash, vomiting, or watery/bloody diarrhoea, which require prompt medical attention.

Potential Causes

Inhalation of certain metal fumes or dust can cause Metal Fume Fever. Hot metalworking processes, such as smelting and casting of zinc alloys, brazing, soldering, and welding of galvanized metals commonly leads to exposure. Residue generated by cold sanding processes may also cause the condition, with metals of higher risk, even at low doses. Electroplated surfaces and metal-rich anti-corrosion paints, such as cadmium passivated steel or zinc chromate primer used on aluminium aircraft parts is another potential cause of Metal Fume Fever.


Diagnosis is dependant on good occupational history and can be easily missed due to non-specific complaints, with symptoms that resemble a number of other common illnesses, and because symptoms typically show 2–10 hours after exposure. Metal Fume Fever may be easily confused with acute bronchitis or pneumonia if respiratory symptoms are prominent. Diagnosis is based primarily upon a history of exposure to metal oxide fumes.

Among those exposed, physical symptoms can vary, dependant on during which stage of the syndrome examination occurs. Patients may first show symptoms such as wheezing or crackling lungs. Typically an increased white blood cell count and elevated zinc levels may be found in the skin, urine and blood plasma. Abnormalities may also be found in chest X-rays.

Can Drinking Milk Prevent Metal Fume Fever?

No, "A daily ration of milk will prevent the ill effects of welding fumes", is more of a myth than a method of preventing Metal Fume Fever. This legend about preventing harm to your health from welding fumes by drinking milk still persists in the minds of some welders. The supposed therapeutic effects of milk are discussed again and again when the topic of welding fumes comes up. The origins of milk's magical anti-welding fume effects come from more than one myth:

  1. Milk's high fat content was said to bind toxins in the body.

  2. Milk supposedly aids in the deslagging of hazardous substances.

  3. Milk is said to promote the production of mucus, meaning faster discharge of particles in welding fumes.

In fact, quite the opposite may be true: Milk is suspected by some to increase the absorption of toxic substances.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns on their website, "Don’t believe the stories about drinking milk before welding. It does not prevent you getting metal fume fever.“

Don’t believe the stories. Drinking milk won’t protect you from Metal Fume Fever and may even make it worse. No welding should take place without an effective welding fume extraction system. Drink milk with your breakfast, just don't rely on it for protection against welding fumes.

Preventing Metal Fume Fever

Prevention of metal fume fever in workers who are at risk (such as welders) involves avoidance of direct contact with potentially toxic fumes, improved engineering controls (Local Exhaust Ventilation systems), effective use of PPE (respirators), and education of workers regarding the features of the syndrome itself and proactive measures to prevent its development.

What Can RCS Do For You

RCS's engineers will endeavour to provide you with the most effective and cost-efficient solution for welding fume extraction, fully COSSH compliant, following current HSE guidelines and your own individual requirements. Call us on +44(0)1563 546807 or click here to contact us for more information.


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