Two-year-old Joey had been playing in the basement near the laundry room while his mom was cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner. About a half an hour later, he started throwing up while in the bath. His mom smelled laundry detergent in his vomit. Then she found an empty packet of an All laundry detergent pod – a small, single-use concentrated packet – on the laundry room floor. While being cleaned up, he could barely stand up and became unresponsive within a few minutes. His mom called the Poison Control Center hotline and his dad called 911.
On arrival to the Emergency Department, Joey was very drowsy and barely breathing. A tube was placed in his airway and he was hooked to a ventilator. He spent the night in the pediatric intensive care unit. The next day, specialists performed an endoscopy and found no damage to his breathing tube or to the lining of his esophagus and stomach. Later that day, he became more alert and was breathing on his own. He spent another day in the hospital and when he was able to eat and drink without difficulty, he was discharged home without any anticipated long-term problems.
Household cleaning products, such as laundry detergent and bleach, rank in the top five most common exposures for children 5 years and younger. Until 2012, although about 6,500 cases of young children per year came into contact or swallowed liquid or powdered laundry detergent, injuries were minor, such as mouth irritation or mild vomiting. Children often swallowed very little or would immediately spit them out because of these products’ foul taste.
The landscape changed in 2012 when increasing reports of young children who became significantly ill from exposure to laundry detergent pods began to surface like the case that I saw with Joey. Since then, United States poison centers counted more than 14,000 instances of young children eating or otherwise coming into contact with detergent pods. Thousands of children received medical attention, and some had breathing difficulties that hospitalized them for days, reported a Wall Street Journal article last November.