Poison control laundry detergent study

Although laundry detergent pods contain potentially hazardous chemicals, videos and memes of teens and young adults eating them have gone viral online.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY -- Last Thursday, the Iowa Poison Control Center received its first call of the year involving misuse of laundry pods.

By Monday, the Sioux City-based center's specially trained nurses and pharmacists had recorded a total of five such calls -- four involving teenagers and one involving an adult, which was one more call than the center received in all of 2017.

Online videos and memes of teens and adults putting laundry pods into their mouths and biting into the slippery, concentrated liquid, which has been dubbed the "Tide Pod Challenge," have gone viral, leading the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to tweet against the fad with advisories of "Laundry pods are not a snack. Don't eat poison."

"We're trying to remind people that putting a poison in your mouth is not really the smartest thing to do," said Tammy Noble, a registered nurse and education coordinator for the Iowa Poison Control Center. "When you get those highly concentrated detergents that are found in the pod into your mouth and you swallow, it can cause some pretty significant diarrhea and vomiting."

Besides the potential for dehydration, Noble said consumption of laundry pods could result in burns to the mouth, throat and stomach. She said the liquid detergent could squirt into the eyes, injuring the corneas, or get into the lungs, causing serious breathing difficulties.

"Sometimes we've had people that needed to be put on a ventilator to help them breathe," Noble said. "By far, our calls about the laundry pods are usually young children that get into it because they think it's candy. Sometimes, it's elderly adults who accidentally do the same thing."

During 2013 and 2014, poison control centers across the nation recorded 29,891 exposures to laundry detergent packets, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Thirty-six percent of patients were seen in an emergency department, while 4 percent were admitted to a hospital.

Over the years, laundry pod manufactures have made the pods harder to break open and added child-resistant latches to packaging.

Noble urges parents to only use laundry pods when children aren't present and to keep packages of laundry pods sealed and out of reach when not in use. When it comes to teenagers who would have no problem opening the packaging, Noble said education and communication are key.

"We want to remind people these are highly concentrated detergents meant to clean clothes. These are not to be played with. Whatever the circumstances are, whatever the age of the person, it's not meant as a joke and it's not a risk worth taking," she said.


Health and Lifestyles reporter

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