Detergent Packs a Poison for Curious Kids
Packaging is a key part of consumer appeal, but a certain attractively designed laundry product can be far more problematic than a resistant ketchup stain.
As widely reported, including on NPR, the small, brightly colored single-use packets of laundry detergent—sometimes called detergent pods—can look like candy to a toddler or small child. When a kid bites into one, a burst of concentrated, corrosive detergent is released. Several hundred cases of illness have been reported this year. In California alone, 82 cases were reported through May.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, youngsters who swallow the packets can become ill enough to require hospitalization. Some get the product in their eyes, resulting in significant irritation. Among the reports of children biting into a packet:
- A 20-month-old child vomited profusely, wheezed and gasped, then became unresponsive to even painful stimuli.
- A 15-month-old vomited profusely and had to be put on a ventilator at a hospital.
- A 17-month-old rapidly developed drowsiness, vomited, breathed the product into the lungs and had to be put on a ventilator.
After sampling the detergent, kids can get sick in a hurry. They can grow excessively fatigued, lethargic and develop breathing difficulties. Symptoms of ingestion are worse than those seen from ingesting other types of detergent. Medical professionals aren’t certain why, but it might have to do with a constituent of the packets acting as a strong, short-acting sedative.
The good news is that symptoms generally resolve within a few hours, and the prognosis for full recovery is good, provided that the children get prompt care to support their breathing difficulties.
No deaths have been reported, and data from poison control centers is developing—the specific hazards of ingesting detergent packets were recognized only in the last couple of months.
A review in California found that the two most common single-dose detergent brands that children have consumed are Tide Pods Detergent and Purex Ultra Packs. But many other brands are marketed, and all should be considered as dangerous to children. Tide Pods is redesigning its packaging to make it more difficult to breach.
Parents and caregivers should ensure that detergent packets are treated like medication—they should not be accessible to children. If you suspect a child has had dangerous contact with a detergent packet, contact the poison control center at (800) 222-1222. If breathing difficulties develop, seek immediate care.
Apart from the new concern over detergent packets, there is good news from the harms department of household cleaning products: Injuries are declining. From 1990 to 2006, such misadventures declined from 22,000 to 12,000. Wee ones from 1 to 3 years old remain the most vulnerable to these accidents, representing nearly 3 in 4 incidents.
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