Published on October 24, 2016

Detergent pods – handy, but they can be deadlyDetergent pods – handy, but they can be deadly

They’re bright, colorful and squishy – just like something that might be good to eat. As a result, many youngsters have mistakenly bitten into detergent pods and suffered the ill effects they cause.

From January 2013 to December 2014, the National Poison Data System reported 62,254 children under the age of 6 were exposed to laundry and dishwasher detergents – 85 percent through eating them, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Of these total exposures, detergent packets or pods accounted for 59.6 percent.

“Why are kids attracted to the pods? Mainly, because they’re colored and soft. They look like a bowl of candy and so quite an attraction to kids, especially less than 6, particularly 1- to 3-year-olds who use their hands and their mouth to explore their environment – very enticing,” said Sonia Chaudhry, MD, a pediatric hospitalist with Tufts Floating Hospital for Children’s program at Cape Cod Hospital.

According to the study, the concentrated detergents in the pods can cause vomiting, burn a child’s esophagus, mouth and pharynx; injure their upper and lower respiratory system and the corneas of their eyes; depress breathing and the central nervous system; even result in death.

Pods hit U.S. markets in 2012 and quickly became popular. On May 17 of that year, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Association of Poison Control Centers began tracking exposures to detergent pods. In the first month of data collection, 1,008 laundry detergent exposures were reported, of which 485 involved pods.

Over the two-year span of the Pediatrics study, exposures to laundry detergent pods grew 17 percent.

And, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, during the first five months of this year, there have been 4,900 exposures nationwide to laundry detergent pods by children under 5.

Laundry Pods Are Most Worrisome

“It’s really the laundry detergent pods that are more concerning than the dishwashing pods, because of the chemical makeup,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “If a child ingests it, it’s a highly concentrated amount of detergent – particularly sodium phosphate, sodium bicarb and ammonia … and bleach. When they bite it, it can splash. There’s a lot of facial burns and corneal scratches,” she said.

Dr. Chaudhry recommends storing detergent pods out of children’s reach or in a locked cabinet. The Pediatrics study said the most commonly reported situation with detergent exposures was “stored within sight of child.” Second was “stored in unlocked low cabinet in kitchen or bathroom.”

According to the AAPCC, children who get the detergent in their mouths have “excessive vomiting, wheezing and gasping.” Others get sleepy, or have serious breathing difficulty. This differs from ingestion of laundry detergent that’s not in a packet or pod, in which children experienced mild stomach upset or no symptoms at all.

If your child bites into a pod, do not try to induce vomiting with syrup of ipecac, said Dr. Chaudhry, as vomiting could cause the detergent to be inhaled or further burn the esophagus.

Also don’t try some home remedy approaches to poisoning, such as drinking milk or eating something, she said.

Instead, call the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) and take your child to the emergency room.

“Don’t try to treat at home,” she said.

Some manufacturers of dishwasher detergent pods have taken notice and have responded to poison concerns by making the pods less colorful, Dr. Chaudhry said. Many are now white. She said she’s notices public services announcements on the dangers of pods and believes the numbers of exposures may be dropping.

“I haven’t seen any of these cases here, on the Cape,” she said. “I was shocked.”