The Latest Social Media Fad? Teens Eating Laundry Detergent Pods

The number of children exposed to laundry detergent packets continues to rise, despite efforts by manufacturers to make containers more child resistant.

WHEELING — A dangerous new craze known as the “Laundry Pod Challenge” is gaining popularity among teenagers, but doctors say it could lead to hospitalization.

In the latest social media fad, teens record themselves eating laundry pods. Medical experts warn that swallowing the contents of a detergent packet can cause life-threatening effects including coma, fluid in the lungs and respiratory failure.

Although most parents have begun to realize the danger that laundry pods pose to younger children, they now have to educate their teens on the harmfulness of the new obsession.

The health risks of ingesting laundry pods have been well-documented in recent years.

A study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and the Central Ohio Poison Center found that exposure to laundry detergent packets is more dangerous to young children than exposure to other types of laundry and dishwasher detergent.

The study, published online in Pediatrics in 2016, found that from January 2013 through December 2014, poison control centers in the United States received 62,254 calls related to laundry and dishwasher detergent exposures among children younger than 6 years old.

The study included calls about both traditional detergent and detergent packets and found that detergent packets accounted for 60 percent of all calls.

Almost half — 45 percent — of the calls for exposure to laundry detergent packets were referred to a health care facility for evaluation and treatment, significantly more than calls related to exposures to traditional laundry detergent (17 percent), traditional dishwasher detergent (4 percent) or dishwasher detergent packets (5 percent).

Incidents related to laundry detergent packets saw the most significant jump — increasing 17 percent over the two-year study period. Poison control centers received more than 30 calls a day about children who had been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, which is about one call every 45 minutes.

In addition, the most serious clinical effects such as coma, trouble breathing, heart problems and death, were only seen in children exposed to the chemicals in laundry detergent packets.

The risks of having a clinical effect, a serious medical outcome, hospitalization or intubation were significantly higher for children who had been exposed to the chemicals in a laundry detergent packet than for those exposed to any other type of laundry or dishwasher detergent.

At least one child a day in the United States was admitted to the hospital due to a laundry detergent packet exposure. The two child deaths in this study were both associated with exposure to laundry detergent packets.

In an effort to reduce unintentional exposures to the contents of laundry detergent packets, the American Society for Testing and Materials published a voluntary Standard Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets in 2015, but some experts think it did not go far enough.

“This voluntary standard is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened,” said Dr. Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Unless this unacceptably high number of exposures declines dramatically, manufacturers need to continue to find ways to make this product and its packaging safer for children.”

Experts recommend that families with children younger than 6 years old use traditional detergent instead of packets.

“Many families don’t realize how toxic these highly concentrated laundry detergent packets are,” said Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, a co-author of the study, chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. “Use traditional laundry detergent when you have young kids in your home. It isn’t worth the risk when there is a safer and effective alternative available.”