Urea (chemical formula: (CH4N2O), also known as carbamide, is a crystalline substance that appears as white crystals, granules, pellets or powder. It is mostly odourless or has a minor ammonia odour and is soluble in water and concentrated hydrochloric acid. Synthetic urea is created by heating a combination of ammonia and carbon dioxide.
Urea is used widely as a fertiliser due to its high nitrogen content that readily converts to ammonia in the soil. It is also added to feed of animals such as cattle and sheep to promote growth and contributes to a significant part of their protein requirements.
Topical creams that contain urea are used to rehydrate the skin, with formulations of 40% urea used to treat conditions such as psoriasis and eczema among others.
Urea is also used in the manufacturing of other products such as; detergents, tooth whiteners, resins and plastics, paper and barbiturates (central nervous system depressant drugs).
The routes of exposure for urea include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact.
Inhalation of urea may produce irritation and inflammation to the respiratory tract. Those with existing conditions such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, may incur further damage if inhaled. Symptoms of inhalation may include; coughing and shortness of breath, but generally inhalation of small quantities are not considered to be harmful.
Ingestion of urea is not thought to produce harmful effects, however damage can still occur where there is pre-existing liver/kidney damage. Ingestion of insignificant quantities is not considered harmful, but irritation to the gastrointestinal tract may still occur, along with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, confusion and electrolyte depletion.
Urea is a common ingredient in skin ointments with concentrations of about 2-20%. High doses of urea however, can produce mild inflammation and irritation, often characterised by redness and swelling that can possibly progress to blistering, scaling and thickening of the skin. Prolonged skin contact may also cause stinging sensation and dermatitis. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts or wounds may also produce other harmful effects.
Repeated or prolonged eye exposure to urea can cause inflammation characterised by temporary redness, temporary vision impairment and other transient eye damage.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to hospital without delay.
If swallowed, immediately give the patient a glass of water. First aid is generally not required, but if in doubt, contact a Poisons Information Centre or medical professional.
If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and flush the affected area with plenty of running water and soap. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention without delay.
Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and there should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary).
The PPE recommended when handling urea includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, particle dust respirators, PVC gloves and aprons, protective suits, and safety boots. Skin barrier and cleansing creams are also recommended in the event of exposure to skin.
For more information on the proper handling of urea, refer to your SDS. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at email@example.com for more information about our chemicals management solutions.