U.S. poison control centers received more than 17,000 calls - or about one per hour - about children who'd been exposed to chemicals in laundry detergent pods in 2012 and 2013, a new study found.
Over 700 of the children were hospitalized, and one child died, researchers said.
“This caught us by surprise,” said Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s lead author from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “I’ve seen these cases come through the hospital’s emergency department,” he said. “I was aware of the case reports, but I haven’t seen anyone pull together the numbers.”
The all-in-one packets contain detergent that’s released in the wash, so users don't have to measure detergent in a cup.
Smith and his colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics that doctors have previously reported on kids who've eaten or burst the pods with serious consequences, such as being hospitalized and put on a ventilator for several days.
To get a better understanding of how many children are being exposed and possibly harmed by the pods, the researchers analyzed data from 2012 and 2013 from the National Poison Data System, which catalogs calls made to U.S. poison control centers.
Overall, the centers received 17,230 calls about children younger than six who were somehow exposed to the liquid in laundry detergent pods. That’s roughly four calls per 10,000 children in that age group, according to the researchers. About a third of the calls involved children between the ages of one and two years.
“This is an age group that has newfound mobility,” Smith said. “They’re curious and they don’t sense danger.” Children may think the colorful pods are candy or filled with juice, he said.
About 80 percent of all calls involved children swallowing the pods or their liquids.
“The good news is that half of these exposures were trivial,” Smith said, meaning the children did not get seriously sick or need additional care. “If they swallow it and they swallow enough of it, that’s when we get these serious symptoms,” he said.
The most common side effects of exposure to the pods or their liquids include vomiting, coughing and choking, eye irritation or pain and tiredness.
Serious side effects included comas, seizures and stomach burns.
While the researchers can’t say for sure that the detergents in the pods are more powerful than traditional laundry detergent, the symptoms after exposure to the pods seem more serious, Smith said.
“These are severe symptoms that we haven’t seen in the past with traditional laundry detergent that we’re now seeing with these new pods,” he said. “The symptoms are a very broad spectrum,” Smith said. “It’s not only the amount, but the route of exposure too.”