An important part of the safety awareness portion of a well baby/child visit has always been a review of safety measures appropriate for the child at the age of the particular visit. Most of the subjects discussed–car seats, secure storage of medication and household products, electrical subjects–have been standard for decades. But every so often a subject of a newly recognized hazard presents itself, such as electronic “button” batteries or small magnets over the last five or so years. And just within the last year or two, another new source of serious injury has developed: concentrated laundry detergent pods which have resulted in more than 10,000-12,000 calls yearly to poison control centers, currently about 30 a day.
Although conventional laundry detergent has been sampled by children in presumably enormous numbers for many years, even decades , it seldom caused significant injury. But these newer single-use highly concentrated packets with multi-colored packaging containing Tide, Gain, Purex and other well-known detergent names are really different in this respect. For reasons that are not fully understood by experts in toxicology–but probably related to the rapid ejection of the super-concentrated product– the injuries from them are far more threatening . They include profuse vomiting, respiratory distress, and depression of the central nervous system, and ventilator support has at times been required due to aspiration into the lungs. There has also been at least one serious eye burn reported. The number of fatalities in the last couple years is about seven, and they have not all been in children. These severe ingestions have also occurred in some elderly people with dementia.
Detergent manufacturers have already tried to make some packaging changes to reduce the eye appeal and risk of children’s getting into them, although other steps have been suggested but not yet implemented. But as with all those other potential opportunities for toddlers and children to sustain serious injury–or worse–through the countless common and less common accidents for which they are at risk, this is one more thing for parents to know about and take the basic measures to prevent.