Laundry, dishwashing detergent pods sending kids to the hospital

WICHITA FALLS, TX - They look harmless. Almost joyful, especially to children.

But highly concentrated single-load laundry detergent packs are sending thousands of children to emergency rooms after mistaking the colorful product for a teething toy or a piece of candy. Four children were seen in the emergency room at United Regional Health Care System in July after biting into the water-soluble packet that contains the caustic chemicals.

Dr. John Hilmi, medical director of emergency services at the hospital, said 70 percent of toxicity ingestion cases now come from laundry detergent pods as well as similar dishwashing products. The pods were first seen in Europe in 2001, and were introduced in the United States in 2010.

The emergency physician said poison victims have ranged from 18 months to 5 years old.

“They cause a very specific kind of irritation and also what’s called liquefaction necrosis of the mucosa, or the lining of the esophagus and lining of the airway as well,” he said. “So it literally will liquefy that tissue.”

Hilmi said not only does the high pH levels of some of the chemicals damage tissues, but there are other contents in the pods that alter mental status.

Of the four children seen at United Regional in July, two had to be sent to hospitals that specialize in pediatric intensive care because the use of a ventilator was needed to help them breathe. The doctor said artificial ventilation is sometimes needed when respiratory or decreased mental status issues arise.

Hilmi said it doesn’t take long for a child to have a reaction to the caustic chemicals, and parents or caregivers should seek immediate emergency treatment. Not only does the chemical damage the esophagus, but also the wind pipe most likely caused when the child gasps when they begin to experience a burning sensation.

“If they do swallow it, a key point to stress ... do not make the child vomit because it will actually expose the tissue twice to the chemicals instead of just once,” he said. “That seems to be the thing that people try to do ... it’s the worst thing you could do.”

According to a Consumer Reports article, more than 20,000 cases of toxicity ingestion from detergent pods have been reported to poison control centers since 2012. The American Association of Poison Control Centers’ website shows almost 6,700 children have reportedly ingested the dangerous chemical through July 31 this year alone. There were more than 10,000 in 2013 and 6,343 in 2012.

The AAPCC urges people to:

  • Always keep detergent containers closed, sealed and stored up high, out of the reach of children.
  • Follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if you suspect a child has come in contact with this detergent.
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