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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Sep 7, 2012
11:47 AM

Kids Are Eating Colorful Laundry Tablets, Getting Sick

Curious kids in Michigan and nationwide are mistaking gel packets for candy. Get tips on preventing your child from ingesting the concentrated detergent – and learn what to do if it happens.

Kids Are Eating Colorful Laundry Tablets, Getting Sick

How could a kid resist? They're shiny, squishy and look just like gel-filled fruit snacks. But when a child bites into one, instead of bursting with sugar, it's packed with hazardous and poisonous chemicals that are meant to clean your dirty laundry.

These laundry packets from popular brands like Tide and Wisk have become a popular alternative to traditional detergents. Just place a tab in with the load of laundry and it dissolves away with the wash.

But a number of curious children have mistaken the colorful and shiny gels for candy or toys. And a new report by the British Medical Journal is highlighting serious concerns, including chemical burns to children' throats.

The dangers

The American Association of Poison Control Centers says that just this year, it received nearly 3,000 reports of kids coming in contact with the laundry capsules, with a handful having to be hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Dr. Mary Jo Malafa, emergency medicine department chair at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Mich. said that the tablets, like other cleaning products, could pose a threat to curious children.

"These tablets are something that could be very caustic if a child were to come into contact with them," she says.

Malafa is referring to the tablets' highly concentrated formula of detergents containing alkaline cleaning agents, which have the ability to cause inflammation and swelling of tissues when they come in contact with skin or mouths, according to authors in the British Medical Journal.

The tablets are also often large enough to pose a choking risk if swallowed.

Signs and symptoms

Swallowing traditional laundry detergent usually causes nothing more than an upset stomach. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says that the new packets, however, seem to react differently.

Some children who have come in contact with the concentrated liquid experience vomiting or diarrhea – or may start gasping and have trouble breathing.

If you believe your child has swallowed a laundry packet, do not induce vomiting – and contact poison control immediately.

Preventing accidents

They're convenient to use and save you time. But what can you do to prevent your child from getting into detergent trouble?

The best answer is often the simplest one. Malafa says that all potentially harmful products, including detergents and pills, should be kept in high, hard-to-reach areas.

"Instances like these should act as a reminder for parents to keep (cleaning products) away from children," she says.

If your child is particularly exploratory, consider locking up your laundry/dishwasher detergents and other harmful chemicals.

Also, be sure to read the instructions on all potentially harmful chemicals in the house. Most labels on laundry gel capsules bear warnings to keep children away from the products.

The EPA has a list of signal words for kids and parents to learn and look for on household products that signify their potential toxicity:

  • "Danger" is the strongest signal word and means that ingesting this product could make one very ill or die.
  • "Warning" is less than "Danger" but can still seriously hurt you. ("Warning" is also used to identify flammable products.)
  • "Caution" indicates that the product can hurt you, but not nearly as badly as others. These can irritate skin, make one sick from fumes or hurt if they come in contact with eyes.

Talk with your children and make sure that they know these words – and that the tasty-looking tablets do not taste good at all. In fact, eating one could land them in the emergency room.

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