In 2016, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 39 cases of people—between the age of 13 and 19—intentionally eating Tide pods. In 2017, that number grew to 53. In the first two weeks of 2018, 39 cases have already been reported.
Kids are posting videos online of themselves intentionally eating tide laundry pods as part of the #TidePodChallenge. It has spread quickly on social media sites this year, but it is not without warning. Eating these pods poses a serious health threat.
The laundry pods consist of chemicals, perfumes, and foaming agents, all wrapped in a plastic packaging. The plastic coating is designed to dissolve when it comes into contact with water, releasing the concentrated contents. However, If the plastic doesn’t dissolve completely, it has the potential to close off a person’s airway and prevent breathing.
Kids who put a pod in their mouth will, at the very least, cough, gag, and foam at the mouth. The heavy duty soap may trigger diarrhea and vomiting. At worst, the pods can cause chemical burns to the throat and airways, breathing problems, seizures, and even a coma. In 2017, some cases resulted in death.
Most laundry detergents are caustic, meaning that they can cause burns to the throat and esophagus. Some affected individuals may need ventilators to breathe normally. There is also an increased long-term risk for choking, because the burns cause the development of scar tissue, which narrows the throat and makes it easier for food to get stuck. If this is the case, some kids may require a food tube be implanted in their stomach to help sustain them while they undergo surgeries to repair the throat damage.
It is important to remember that these products are highly concentrated detergent packets. Their contents can cause serious harm if they are ingested or come into contact with the eyes or skin,” said the American Cleaning Institute, a trade industry group. “They are not a toy and should not be used in pranks.”
As soon as Tide’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble, became aware of the social media trend, it quickly posted an online campaign emphasizing that the pods are for laundry, and only laundry. Proctor & Gamble also partnered with social media sites, who are working to ban all challenge videos.
Kids under the age of 5 often like the brightly colored laundry packets because they look like candy, which is why Proctor & Gamble has taken action over recent years to reduce the risk of children accessing and ingesting the pods. They have created child-resistant packaging and advocate for parent and caregiver education on safe use and storage of the pods.
If you are the parent or caregiver for a child, make sure to put laundry detergent pods and other harmful substances out of reach for children. For older kids, it is important to sit down and have a conversation about the social media trend. Be clear that there are serious health consequences.
If a child in your care has ingested a pod and is suffering mild symptoms, experts recommend that you call the national poison help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 for advice. If you notice worse symptoms, act quickly and call 911 immediately.