Apr 25, 2016 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Every 45 minutes somewhere in the United States, a parent calls a poison control center because their child has ingested a laundry or dishwashing detergent packet. That’s the finding of new research published this week in Pediatrics. Researchers say the number of children accidentally ingesting these packets over the past two years has risen by nearly 20 percent, despite increasing warnings about their danger. Utah’s Poison Control Center saw an increase of roughly 15 percent between 2014 and 2015.

“It isn’t surprising that these calls have been going up, due to the increasing availability and popularity of these products,” says Sherrie Pace of the Utah Poison Control Center. “They are convenient, and people seem to want more simplicity in these types of tasks.”

Ingestion of the detergent packets can cause vomiting, breathing problems, or lethargy. In severe cases, comas have occurred. Nationwide, there have been two reported deaths after children ingested a packet. Pace says parents shouldn’t wait for symptoms to occur before calling for help. “Call the poison control center right away,” she says. “We have specialists who can help 24 hours a day.”

Ingestion isn’t the only danger the packets pose for children. “We have also seen eye exposures, which can be harmful,” says Pace. “The detergent can burn the skin around the eye, as well as the eye itself.”

The best way to protect kids from the dangers associated with detergent packets is to avoid having them in your home. The authors of the new Pediatrics article say they are "strongly recommending" the packets not be used in homes with children under the age of six, and that traditional detergents are used instead. If they are brought into the home, extreme caution should be exercised. “Keep the product up and out of the reach of children,” says Pace. “Also, keep the packets in their original container. They look like candy – so you want every warning that they are not for eating.” 

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