Since laundry detergent pods were introduced in the U.S. in 2010, emergency departments around the country have seen a number of children, generally toddlers, who have ingested (or eaten) these packets. It is important to know about the dangers of liquid laundry detergent packets and what you should do if your child ingests one.

Laundry pod poisonings are relatively rare and often accidental; however, most cases are completely preventable. Toddlers are the most likely to be affected because the capsules are small and colorful, like candy, making them appealing. Laundry detergent pods contain a thin, water-soluble membrane that will dissolve and expose the detergent when in contact with saliva or moist skin.

What you need to know about laundry pod poisoning

Often, toddlers are unable to communicate what they have ingested. The most telling signs are the smell of laundry detergent and remains of the pod’s membrane or colorful liquid on their skin or clothing. Common symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Irritated skin or eyes
  • Choking

If your child does ingest liquid laundry detergent packets, the health effects can be mild to severe. Severe cases often result in complications with airways and respiration symptoms. In any case, it is best to call poison control at 1-800-222-1222. They can direct you to your best option depending on your child’s symptoms.

Many chemical ingestions require the use of activated charcoal as a treatment method. This treatment should NOT be used for laundry pod ingestions. Laundry detergent is an alkaline substance and is hazardous if vomited. In addition to having no benefit in these cases, activated charcoal can occasionally induce vomiting.

Preventing laundry pod poisoning

The best way to prevent laundry packet detergent ingestion is by taking proper precautions. The most effective prevention is to always keep all packets and any harmful chemicals out of a child’s reach. Remember, even surfaces that seem hard to get to may be in reach for more adventurous children.

You should also ensure that the packets are in a container that will not be susceptible to liquids or moisture. A childproof container is the most secure means of protection and will prevent any young child from accessing these packets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Safe Kids Worldwide, founded by Children’s National Health System, have more information about liquid laundry detergent packet ingestions, the signs and symptoms and how to prevent these ingestions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanna Cohen Joanna Cohen, MD, is an attending in the emergency department (ED) at Children's National Health System. Her primary research interest includes bedside ultrasonography in the ED.

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