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Laundry packets tempting to children

There has been a surge in the number of young children who swallow the single unit packets of laundry detergent that look like tiny balloons.

by Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph.

I don't usually stray too far from medication-related topics for my blogs each week. However, something crossed my desk a few days ago from the American Association of Poison Control Centers that caught my attention, and I think it's worthwhile mentioning.

The poison centers want to call attention to a surge in the number of young children and toddlers who swallow those single unit packets of laundry detergent that look like tiny balloons. Dishwasher detergents also come in these packets.

If you've ever handled them, you know that even the slightest amount of moisture touching the packets will cause the "skin" that covers the detergent to start to dissolve, exposing the substance inside. That's what's happening when kids touch these to their tongue or put them in their mouth. Some of them are then swallowing it.

According to the poison centers some children have required hospitalization. Other children have gotten the product in their eye, which causes significant irritation.

They gave three examples. In one case, 10 minutes after a 20-month old swallowed a laundry detergent packet, the child developed profuse vomiting, wheezing and gasping and then became unresponsive. In another case a 15-month-old who bit into a pack and swallowed a mouthful had profuse vomiting and, after arrival at a hospital, had to be put on a ventilator for airway protection. Finally, a 17-month-old bit into a packet and then rapidly developed drowsiness, vomited, breathed the product into the lungs, and had to be put on a ventilator.

The poison experts say that usually laundry detergents cause only mild stomach upset or even no symptoms at all. They don't yet know what's in these that's making the kids so sick. But that's what they are seeing. They're urging parents and others who might care for kids to make sure laundry detergent packs are not accessible to young kids.

These products can often be found in spots that are easy for kids to get at, such as the top of a washing machine or, in the case of dishwasher detergent, in a cabinet under the sink. If you use these packets in your household, make sure you treat them like you would medications. Keep them locked up and up and away from kids and follow the specific disposal instructions on the label.

If you think a child has been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

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