A Hidden Danger in the Home: Laundry Detergent Pods

The convenience of laundry detergent pods is hard for any homemaker to resist. Their fun, candy-like appearance is also irresistible to children. Here’s how to protect yours.

By Dr. Kay Leaming-Van Zandt, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital

Since their introduction in the U.S. market in 2010, laundry detergent pods have been doing more than just keeping our clothes clean. Thousands of young children have been the unintentional victims of these seemingly safe products. An article recently published in the journal Pediatrics showed that 17,230 children younger than 6 years of age were exposed to laundry detergent pods from 2012 to 2013, with ingestions accounting for 79.7 percent of cases.

Why are laundry detergent pods so dangerous? They are water-dissolvable, single-load capsules that contain concentrated liquid detergent. Because of their small, bite-sized and colorful appearance, many children commonly mistake laundry detergent pods for candy or toys. By accidentally squeezing or placing the pod in their mouths, children can sustain a wide range of symptoms such as eye irritation and pain, rashes, nausea, vomiting, coughing, choking, fast or labored breathing, drowsiness and depressed levels of consciousness (or lethargy).

If your child has been exposed to a laundry detergent pod, stay calm. Quickly and gently clean the detergent from your child’s body (i.e., irrigate and rinse and cleanse your child’s eyes, mouth and skin) and call the Poison Control Center hotline for further advice and recommendations. If your child is drooling and unable to swallow his saliva, persistently vomiting and unable to keep any fluids down, breathing quickly and/or more labored, or is unresponsive or minimally responsive to your voice and light touch, seek medical care immediately. Remember to never gag or intentionally force your child to vomit. Vomiting can worsen mucosal injuries and potentially cause children to aspirate the detergent into their lungs.

If your child needs to go to the emergency center, he will be triaged, evaluated and treated for his symptoms. Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, he may need supportive therapy, such as eye irrigation, supplemental oxygen, breathing treatments, anti-nausea medications, and IV fluids. Labs, x-rays and subspecialty consults (i.e., otolaryngology (ENT) doctors or gastroenterology) may also need to be ordered. If your child has persistent or severe symptoms, he will likely need to be admitted into the hospital for further observation and care.

The main message for parents though is that prevention is key! Keep all cleaning products, painting/household supplies and prescription and non-prescription medications stored in a safe and secured area that is not easily seen or accessible by young children. Buckets of used cleaning solutions should never be left unattended and unused, for they not only pose ingestion and exposure risks but also a potential drowning risk. Also, never refer to household products or medications as toys or candy, and frequently check the home and garage for hidden hazards.

Emergency contacts, such as the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222), your pediatrician or a nurse’s help line, should be updated and kept in a central, easily accessible location. For emergent care, Texas Children’s Hospital Emergency Centers in the Texas Medical Center and at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus are open 24/7 for acute pediatric injuries and illnesses. Additionally, Texas Children’s Urgent Care clinics in the Cinco Ranch and Memorial areas are open from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends for urgent medical needs.