Detergent pods can be a serious eye hazard to kids

They’re squishy, they’re brightly colored and they look a lot like gummy candies. But they’re actually detergent “pods” that conveniently pop into your washing machine without the mess and hassle of pouring powder or goopy liquid into a measuring cup.

The problem is, young kids are mistaking the pods for those gummy candies. And when they bite into them, they can get some of the chemical content in their eyes, causing blinding injuries. Many other children have become seriously ill after eating the pods.

In recent months, University Hospital’s Emergency Department has seen a few of these eye injuries in kids younger than age 5. And they’re concerned enough to send out an alert to parents as Halloween approaches.

“The reason we think it’s happening is because of the way they look,” said Dr. Jorge Montes, an ophthalmologist with UT Medicine who practices at University Health System. “A lot of these detergent pods, in many brands, come in a very colorful, very bright, soft, squishy packet. And if you’re a 3 or 4-year-old kid — and that’s the age range we’re seeing — you’re going to want to eat them, because they look like candy.”

Montes said the chemicals in these soft pods, whose outer membrane is designed to dissolve quickly in water, have a very high pH level when doctors have measured it the eye.  That can cause a permanent clouding of the cornea, as well as long-term scarring of the eye.

“That’s a lifelong problem,” Dr. Montes said.

University Hospital isn’t the only place that has seen this phenomenon. A study this month in the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus reported on 10 children under age 4 treated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

If your child does get the highly concentrated detergent from the pods in their eyes, parents should try to flush the eyes immediately with plenty of tap or bottled water, Dr. Montes said — adding that can be difficult when a child is in pain and physically resisting. In any case, the child should be brought to the emergency room for a more thorough eyewash and examination.

But the best thing is prevention.  “If you have young kids, try to keep these out of reach,” Dr. Montes said. “Or maybe you could use the same brand, but in solution or powder form until they’re a little older.”

Photo of Dr. Jorge Montes holding an assortment of gummy candies on the left, detergent pods on the right. 

 

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