Laundry detergent pods still making kids sick

August 24, 2016 Susanna Block, MD

Laundry detergent pods have been on the market in the U.S. for the past four years, but they continue to pose a danger to children, this despite repeated warnings about how sick kids can get if they swallow or chew on pods.

In their big plastic tubs, reminiscent of candy jars, the brightly colored little packets are attractive to children -- especially small ones under 6. Unfortunately, while they look like candy, laundry pods are dangerous when ingested.

From Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year alone, 6,843 kids 5 and under swallowed, inhaled or were otherwise exposed to the highly concentrated detergent in laundry packets, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Part of the problem is that when a child swallows a packet of detergent, he or she is ingesting a large amount of soap at one time. Liquid detergents are also dangerous, but children often spit them out right away because of their unpleasant taste.

A study published in June found that laundry pods are four times as likely to lead to hospitalization as other forms of detergent. The study estimates that between 2012 and 2014, laundry pods caused 9,814 injuries.

Of those injuires, 94 percent involved children 5 or younger and 71 percent were classified as poisoning.

An earlier study looked at laundry pod ingestion by children under 6 years old.  Data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed that between January 2012 and December 2013, there were 17,230 calls to U.S. poison control centers with reports of children swallowing laundry pods. Many of those calls resulted in emergency department visits and in 700 cases children were hospitalized.

Of the children who were hospitalized:

  • 48 percent had severe vomiting
  • 13 percent had breathing difficulties
  • 11 percent had severe eye pain
  • 7 percent were drowsy
  • 14 percent required intubation and mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit

In a small number of cases, children had seizures, respiratory arrest, gastric burns and bloody vomit. One- to 2-year-olds accounted for 33 percent of the accidental ingestions.

How laundry pods are stored is part of the problem. In almost half of the ingestion cases, the pods were kept in sight of the child, according to the study. Nearly 11 percent of the time the pods were left unattended while in use. This serves as a reminder that child-proofing requires constant awareness and all cleaning supplies must be stored out of the way of children. 

Since 2013 laundry pod packaging has improved. Some pods are packaged in opaque wrappers with warning labels, and containers have latches. These are helpful steps but they don’t change the fact that concentrated packets of detergent can be extremely dangerous when swallowed or chewed.  Being aware of their potential danger is the best way to prevent accidental ingestions.

If you want to learn more about childproofing your home and protecting your kids, Swedish Pediatrics can help. Call 1-800-793-3474 to schedule an appointment with a provider.

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