By Dr. Amanda Valdez

laundry-detergent-podWhen my son started crawling, I approached child-proofing our home like most everyone does. Outlet covers, cabinet locks, a few foam covers on especially fierce edges and corners. I moved anything that could potentially be dangerous if played with or ingested up high or into locked cabinets. I was feeling pretty on top of it.

One afternoon, my son was on my hip as a threw in a casual load of laundry. In a millisecond, his ninja-like hand reached over and dumped over my bag of Tide Pods, sending them scattered about the dryer’s surface and the floor. Had I already taken one out of the bag and set it down before use, he likely would have grabbed the pod itself. “Oh my gosh!” I thought, scrambling to get them put away. It was a reminder of how quick a six month old can be. I had always used detergent pods, despite having a specific interest pediatric injury prevention even before I became a mom. I fell into the mindset of “It will never happen to me.”

The Problem

Laundry detergent pods are single use packets of very concentrated laundry detergent encapsulated in a thin membrane designed to burst when they become wet. They are extremely convenient compared to a clunky, messy jug of traditional liquid detergent, making starting a quick load of laundry much simpler. They are also colorful, and to a small child, look a lot like a really tasty treat. They are more toxic than regular old laundry detergent due to some ingredient differences as well as the dense concentration of the soap. When one is placed inside the mouth, it only takes a few seconds for the liquid to release and be either swallowed or aspirated into the lungs. The concentrated material is extremely irritating to the oropharyngeal tissues and membranes (the tissues in the mouth and throat) and can cause them to swell, narrowing the airway. This is especially problematic in babies and small children as their airways are already small. While the most common effects with oral exposure are vomiting, coughing/choking, and drowsiness, additional serious effects that have been documented include coma, seizures, pulmonary edema (water on the lungs), abnormal heart rhythm, and respiratory arrest. Exposure of the pod contents to the eyes is an additional danger, which can cause abrasions to the corneas. Needless to say, these products work wonders for easing our laundry burdens, but are extremely dangerous to children.

The Stats

Laundry detergent pods have received a considerable amount of press in recent years. That is because thousands of exposures in young children have occurred since the product’s release in the US marketplace around 2012. A study out of the Center for Injury Research and Policy and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH reported over 17,000 detergent pod exposures in children ages 6 and under, over a two year time span (2012-2013). In 35% of cases, the child was seen in an urgent/emergency care setting, and of those, 12% of children who were exposed via oral ingestion were admitted to the hospital. There was one confirmed death in an infant. In the years following, the number of exposures (documented by calls to the Poison Control Center) increased by 17%. According to the Poison Control Center, over 2600 exposures have already been documented for a 4 month period in 2018.

Pod Safety at Home

Certainly utilizing traditional liquid detergent in your home would eliminate much of the risk to your children in regards to pods specifically. However, should you have children as well as choose to use laundry detergent pods in your home, it is vitally important to exercise extra diligence in preventing a pod related injury from happening to your child. Most of the large producers of detergent pods have developed special seals and lids for their products. Tide (who holds the largest share of the pod market), even has a new “Child-Guard” feature for both their tub and bag products.

Consider these scenarios and guidelines:

  • All household cleaning products, including pods, should be stored high-up and behind child-proof doors. After use, they should be replaced immediately after you are done using them. Don’t rely solely on packaging seals and locks to keep your child safe.
  • Purchase products with tightly sealing packaging features and use them correctly. Snap the lid shut or tightly seal the resealable bag products. Even though they are being stored out of reach, check and double check that they are closed tightly.
  • Never set a pod down on a countertop, on top of the laundry machines, or in a basket of laundry. The pod should go directly into the washer and the container should be closed immediately. Remember how persistent your child is to get to an object he or she is fixated on.
  • Even if your child is out of “everything in the mouth” phase, always keep in mind how exciting a detergent pod looks to a child. Think of this in comparison to a spray bottle of cleaner for instance, which even in the case of a child getting ahold of it, typically requires a larger grasp to operate. A pod fits perfectly in a little hand and looks delicious.

Dr. Amanda Valdez is an anesthesiology resident in Seattle, Washington. She plans to pursue pediatric anesthesiology.

References

American Assoiciation of Poison Control Centers. Laundry Detergent Packets and Children. Retrieved from http://www.aapcc.org/alerts/laudry-detergent-packets/. 2018.

Stromberg, P.E., Burt, M. H., Rose, S. R., Cumpston, K. L., Emswiler, M.P., & Wills, B. K. (2015). Airway compromise in children exposed to single-use laundry detergent pods: A poison center observational case series. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 33(3), 349-351.

Valdez, A. L., Casavant, M., Spiller, H., Chounthirath, T., Xiang, H., & Smith, G.A. (2014). Pediatric Exposure to Laundry Detergent Pods. Pediatrics, 134 (6).

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