From Our 2012 Archives

Laundry Packs Tempting to Children

Young Children Mistake Brightly Colored Gel Packs and Pods for Candy

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 5, 2012 -- For the second time this year, doctors are sounding the alarm about the dangers of laundry pods and gel packs to kids.

Brightly colored, with a gummy texture, researchers say children appear to be mistaking the powerful cleaning agents for candy.

In some ways, this is nothing new. Poison control experts say curious kids have always gotten into household cleaners. What's different this time, they say, is how severely kids can get injured in a relatively short amount of time.

A bite into the packs can cause drooling and vomiting and may burn the mouth, throat, eyes, and lungs.

"Certainly, the children we've seen have had pretty severe injuries from chemical contact with the soaps," says Lyndsay Fraser, MD. Fraser is an ear, nose, and throat doctor at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, Scotland.

Children Biting Laundry Soap Packs

In the new report, Fraser and her colleagues describe the cases of five children treated in the emergency room after biting into laundry detergent capsules.

All the children were younger than age 2. The oldest was released after treatment with steroids and antibiotics. The others needed breathing tubes to prop open their swollen and damaged airways. One needed surgery. All eventually recovered.

The report is published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Fraser says these are not isolated cases. "There are some data nationally to suggest that these cases are on the increase," she says.

That mirrors a similar rise in the U.S.

According to the National Association of Poison Control Centers (NAPCC), there were 2,950 reports of kids coming into contact with laundry gel packs from January through August.

The NAPCC sent out an alert about the problem in May.

"You have these unexpectedly severe outcomes that we weren't really seeing with the liquid detergent preparations," maybe because the new packs are far more concentrated than liquids, says Michael Beuhler, MD, medical director of the Carolinas Poison Center in Charlotte, N.C.

In response, Tide promised to make its Pods container, which looks like a cookie jar, more difficult for kids to get into. The new container has two latches that have to be pushed at the same time before the lid can be opened.

"Certainly manufacturers here in the U.S. have been quite aware of reports of accidental ingestion," says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a group that represents companies that make cleaning products.

Sansoni says companies have been carefully reading the reports and are working with safety advocates and regulators to protect kids.

"Safe storage is the key to prevention. These products should be stored out-of-reach and out-of-sight of children," he says.

Beuhler says parents sometimes throw a single pack on top of a basket of dirty clothes, getting the whole load ready to toss in the washer, but then step away. That gives kids a critical few minutes to get into trouble.

If you think your child has been exposed to a laundry packet, call your local poison control center at 800-222-1222. If you catch a child with a pack in their mouth, the first thing to do is remove it, Beuhler says. If it hasn't burst, carefully wipe their lips and mouth and then call your local poison control center.

He says the experts at poison control typically advise parents not to give children anything by mouth, but to watch them closely. If they aren't showing any symptoms after 15 minutes, they're probably OK.

SOURCES: Fraser, L. Archives of Disease in Childhood, Sept. 5, 2012. Lyndsay Fraser, MD, otolaryngologist, The Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, Scotland. Michael Beuhler, MD, medical director, Carolinas Poison Center, Charlotte, N.C. Brian Sansoni, vice president, communications, American Cleaning Institute, Washington, D.C.

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