Detergent Capsules Pose Danger to Kids

Liquid detergent capsules swallowed by children can cause serious injury or death

(RxWiki News) Childproofing the home for little kids is more than important. It can be a life or death situation. This is especially true for household chemicals.

A letter to the editor recently appeared in a medical journal highlighting this point. Five children were admitted to a single hospital in a year and a half for swallowing liquid detergent capsules.

"Lock up all household chemicals."

The letter was written by five doctors working at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, Scotland, led by Lyndsay Fraser, of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department.

Liquid detergent capsules are dishwasher or laundry detergent liquid encased in a thin plastic that dissolves in water.

"Dishwasher and washing machine liquitabs are now a common finding in most homes but unfortunately seem very attractive to young children due to their bright coloring and soft ‘sweetie-like’ texture," the doctors wrote.

They described five children under age 2 (the youngest was 10 months old) who were admitted to the emergency room with the kind of high-pitched wheeze that means a child's airways are blocked.

The alkaline cleaning chemicals in the detergents, with a pH of about 7.5, can lead to tissue destruction and swelling that can block the airways and severely damage the esophagus (food tube) and back of the throat.

If untreated, the cleaning agent can damage the lungs and cause death, the doctors wrote.

The oldest child was treated with antibiotics and steroids. The other four required a tube to be inserted down their throats and into their lungs for several days to treat the swelling and assist with breathing. One child required surgery. All the children recovered.

The doctors said that national poison hotline calls indicated that liquid detergent capsules are the most common household product to be swallowed accidentally by children in Scotland.

Because these capsules are convenient and common throughout industrialized countries, any child is at risk if a home has these capsules within a child's reach instead of being locked up.

The doctors also noted that the capsules have caused eye injuries in young children as well.

The letter was published September 5 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. The writers declared no competing interests and did not use external funding.

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Review Date: 
September 5, 2012