Tide Pod Challenge poses many health concerns for teens

March 01, 2018

4 minute read

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Henry Spiller, MD

Henry A. Spiller

Consumption of single-load laundry packets has been a concern for those who care for children, with more than 50,000 calls to poison control centers made in the past 5 years, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. .

Despite this danger, a recent viral internet trend – the Tide Pod Challenge – has emerged in which teenagers, a demographic not normally at risk of ingesting these products, intentionally chew a detergent pod until let her break. This phenomenon has been promoted on Twitter, Snapchat and other social media accounts.

Henry A. Spiller, MS, D.ABAT, FAACTdirector of the Central Ohio Poison Control Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, took the time to speak with Infectious diseases in children about the dangers of consuming these products and how pediatricians can intervene.

Q: How common is this behavior in younger and older children?

A: This is relatively common in young children. We still receive about 15,000 poisonings in the United States each year. In their case, this is exploratory behavior where they walk around the house and find things that may look pretty and put them in their mouths. This group usually includes preschoolers and 1- and 2-year-olds.

This is a new phenomenon in older children and adolescents. It’s always hard to say exactly where these behaviors come from, but I know the Tide Pod Challenge pops up on social media sites. It is really very dangerous.

Q: What are some of the risks associated with swallowing laundry detergent pods?

A: Laundry pods can cause caustic burns, which is a big risk. With this challenge, you can get the fluid to the back of your throat, and if it goes down the pharynx, the teen can get burns to the epiglottis covering the trachea. It can swell and they may have trouble breathing if it gets into their lungs.

These detergent pods contain almost no water and are highly concentrated. What was once contained in a cup is now condensed into 15 or 20 ml. These liquids dissolve the lipoproteins around your cells. When the detergent was poured into a cup, the ingredients were much more diluted. However, how long the liquid from the detergent pod stays on the fabric is a major concern. If a clove doesn’t burst easily, kids can put them in the back of their mouths and get a nice big bite, and it can squirt down their throat.

Not everyone has these burns. Even when young children consume laundry detergent pods, the injury rate is 10-15%, but those who are injured suffer very serious injuries. They are hospitalized and, in some cases, they are intubated to help them breathe due to a trachea or airway injury. It’s rare, but we’ve had deaths because of this situation. These are infrequent – ​​perhaps only a handful of deaths – but hundreds are hospitalized each year.

Q: What makes this challenge different from other modes on social media?

A: We haven’t encountered any challenges with this level of risk. It’s the equivalent of thinking you’re playing with firecrackers, but someone hands you a stick of dynamite. The potential injuries and the results are quite serious. When I first heard about the challenge, I immediately thought that they had to choose the worst thing to consume, and they don’t understand that they chose the worst thing.

Before the introduction of these single dose pods, we worried about the laundry detergent in the bottle. It tastes bad and if you drink a lot of it you will vomit. It’s unpleasant, to say the least. We didn’t really think of it as a big danger where we might need to send a child to the intensive care unit. These laundry detergent pods are a big hazard.

Q: How concerned should parents be about this challenge, and what steps can be taken to prevent these behaviors in their children?

A: With parents, we have generally focused on prevention methods in young children. If you have a child under 5, we suggest switching back to liquid detergent for a few years. We didn’t expect teenagers to ingest liquid detergent.

The best thing I can say is that we need to let teenagers know that it really is different from drinking liquid laundry detergent. This is one of those challenges where you can put yourself in intensive care. Someone, like a parent, is going to have to talk to these kids because there are no regulations on buying laundry detergent pods. If you’re 16 and want to go to a store to buy laundry detergent, you can.

If parents see this product in their home and have not purchased it, I would suggest that they talk about it with their children.

Q: What is the role of the pediatrician in limiting these behaviors?

A: This is going to have to be another example of direct education. Let teens know the difference between consuming laundry detergent pods and other detergents. This is equivalent to someone asking you to put laundry detergent or drain cleaner in your mouth. You wouldn’t because it presents a higher level of danger. They must understand this.

Q: Have the manufacturers intervened to prevent the consumption of laundry detergent pods?

A: We have worked with manufacturers for years. We published several articles in 2014 and 2015, but our efforts focused mainly on packaging controls. We were more worried about young children. We have promoted childproof containers and opaque packaging so that children cannot see the pods.

Other prevention methods include a thicker membrane so the pods don’t puncture as easily but are still water soluble so they dissolve in your laundry. I’m not sure what they can do to prevent this in teenagers. They are not going to put these products behind the counter like you would with cigarettes or alcohol. It’s going to be relatively difficult, and we’re really going to have to focus on education.

It is advised that if laundry detergent pods are consumed or you are concerned about exposure, you should call the poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: Spiller does not report any relevant financial information.


AAPCC: Intentional exposures in adolescents to single-load laundry packets

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