By Dr. Karen Sheehan
I have never met a 2 year old who doesn’t like to eat candy. Since a toddler’s judgment and life experience is limited, it shouldn’t be surprising that a toddler would also like to eat items that look like candy but aren’t.
This morning, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and our own Dr. Steven Krug held a news conference at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to highlight the dangers of a candy mimicker that can cause serious health issues when ingested, including death: laundry detergent packets.
These single-use packets came on the market in 2012. Since then, calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers have steeply climbed with 11,711 exposure calls for children less than 5 years old in 2014, a 12% increase over 2013. A paper published in Pediatrics, in December 2014, examined 2012 to 2013 data from the National Poison Data System. The authors discovered that more than 17,000 children less than 6 years of age were exposed. Nearly 75% of the children were younger than 3 years of age. Nearly 80% of the exposures were ingestion. The main toxicity that children experienced from ingestion was vomiting (about 50%), followed by coughing and sleepiness. Although fortunately rare, serious effects from ingestion include coma, seizures, respiratory failure and death.
It is actually unclear why the laundry packets cause such toxicity compared to regular laundry detergent. It may be because the laundry packets have several types of concentrated alcohol formulations which are not found in other laundry detergent products.
What can you do to keep your kids safe?
- The safest step to take is to remove laundry detergent packets from your home if you have young children. There are other laundry detergent products that work well and do not have the same risk of toxicity (although of course you would want to keep any laundry detergent out of a child’s reach).
- If you do have the need to keep the laundry detergent packets in your home, keep them up locked up, high and out of reach. You can’t rely on toddlers to remember that these laundry detergent packets are not candy, even if you tell them. I have been staring at a sample of laundry detergent packets all day and they look mighty tasty. I think it would be impossible for a child to remember he shouldn’t take a small bite even when warned.
- Call 1.800.222.1222 immediately if you child has eaten a laundry detergent packets or gotten concentrated detergent in his or her eye.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well-being.