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Hydroxypropyl cellulose sources, health risks

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 by

Hydroxypropyl cellulose is a white powder that is used as an inactive ingredient in the pharmaceutical industry. Its primary purpose is to act as a rate-controlling polymer for sustained-release dose forms. In other words, the compound is mostly used as a coating for popular therapeutic tablets that require regulated release into the body. Hydroxypropyl cellulose is considered to be inert and relatively safe.

Apart from its use as a film-former, hydroxypropyl cellulose is often used in ophthalmic preparations as treatment for dry eyes. The compound lubricates the outer part of the retina, producing artificial tears. In America, it is available in such over-the-counter medications as Isopto-Tears and Nature Tears.

As with any synthetically derived substance, hydroxypropyl cellulose can cause detrimental health effects.

Harmful effects that can be caused by hydroxypropyl cellulose

Hydroxypropyl cellulose is sometimes used as a clumping agent and emulsifier in some food products, although where and how it is used is not entirely well-researched. Nonetheless, health groups have noted that excessive consumption of the compound can lead to intestinal problems such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. The correct diagnosis of hydroxypropyl cellulose poisoning is often confounded by the fact that it is usually paired with another substance, confusing doctors as to which ingredient in the tablet is causing harm. However, you can easily check if a tablet is over-coated with hydroxypropyl cellulose if your fingers carry traces of the powder after swallowing the tablet. A fine dusting is considered normal, anything more is worrisome.

If you are taking hydroxypropyl cellulose as an eye treatment, make sure that you follow the directions dictated by your doctor or what is written on the package insert. Do not apply more doses than necessary. Sometimes, hydroxypropyl cellulose can cause an immediate allergic reaction. If you suddenly experience a burning or irritating sensation around the eye, stop using the medicine at once. Other symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, bluish skin, and swelling of the face.

Do not share this medicine with others, especially loved ones.

Do not apply hydroxypropyl cellulose on contact lenses or use it to treat contact lens irritation.

Body systems harmed by hydroxypropyl cellulose  

Hydroxypropyl cellulose should be safe if administered correctly. However, taken incorrectly or excessively, the compound can irritate the gastrointestinal tract or the eyes, depending on how it was used.

Where to learn more


Hydroxypropyl cellulose is a white powder that is used in two ways. It is either applied as an eye treatment for dryness or used to coat tablets. While it is generally safe, incorrect use can lead to negative health effects.

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