(Reuters Health) - As concentrated laundry detergent pods have become more common, so have chemical eye injuries among young children, according to a recent U.S. study.
The small, colorful packets of detergent were responsible for more than a quarter of cases of 3- and 4-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms with chemical eye burns in 2015, researchers found.
“Chemical eye burns are potentially very serious injuries and these laundry detergent pods are a very concentrated form of an extremely hazardous chemical,” said Dr. Sterling Haring, a physician and researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
“They may not look as dangerous as a bottle of bleach, but we need to treat them like we would any other dangerous chemical, and that means keeping it up and away and out of sight,” Haring told Reuters Health by email.
Consumer’s Union, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, says the pods can be mistaken for candy by very young children and it has petitioned regulators and manufacturers to change the product in ways that make it less appealing to kids and the containers more child-proof.
The study team also writes in JAMA Ophthalmology that it would help if the pods were redesigned to make them less attractive and more durable.
To see how laundry pod-related eye injuries have changed over time, the researchers analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which provides national estimates of product-related injuries.
In particular, the team searched for emergency room admissions for eye injuries resulting from chemical burns among 3- and 4 year-old children and determined from descriptions which of these injuries were caused by laundry detergent pods.
Between 2010 and 2015, there were 1,201 eye burns from laundry detergent pods among kids in this age group treated in emergency rooms. The number of incidents rose dramatically each year from 12 injuries in 2012 to 480 in 2015, representing a 32-fold increase.
In 2012, laundry pod-related burns made up 0.8 percent of all chemical eye burns in young kids, while in 2015, laundry pods caused 26 percent of all chemical eye burns in this age group.
Most of the eye injuries occurred at home and resulted from children breaking the pod itself, and either having detergent squirt directly into one or both eyes, or getting it on their hands and then touching their eyes.
The primary problem with laundry pods is not with negligent parenting, but with a product design that does not consider children’s safety, said Dr. Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance in Columbus, Ohio.
“Packets often resemble candy or juice, and are the perfect size for a young child to grab and put in their mouth,” Smith, who was not involved in the study, said by email.
“We recommend that households where children younger than 6 years of age live or visit use traditional (liquid or powder) laundry detergent,” Smith said.
If laundry detergent does get in a child’s eye, the first thing to do is put the eye under a faucet and run cool water on it for 20 minutes, said Haring, urging parents to do this before calling 911 or going to the hospital.
“The sooner you can get the eye flushed and the longer you can flush it, the better the odds are of protecting your child’s vision,” Haring said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/2k4eA7y JAMA Ophthalmology, online February 2, 2017.