A growing number of kids are getting chemicals from laundry detergent pods in their eyes, even as ocular injuries from other types of household cleaners steadily decline, a U.S. study suggests.
Nationwide, poison control centers received 319,508 calls from 2000 to 2016 about people getting household cleaning products in their eyes, an average of 18,795 calls a year, researchers report in the journal Eye.
Overall, the annual frequency of these calls declined by 29% during the study period. But annual calls related to laundry detergent pods surged 1,960% from 2012, when they first hit the market, through the end of 2016.
Despite decades of efforts to improve child-resistant packaging, kids made up the vast majority of eye injuries from things like laundry pods, dish soap, glass cleaners, bleach and disinfectants. For every 100,000 U.S. residents, 28.4 kids under age 6 got household cleaning products in their eyes each year, compared with 4.2 teens and adults.
The highest exposure was among 2-year-olds, with 62.8 cases for every 100,000 residents.
“Cleaning products may be particularly alluring to young children due to their colorful packaging and contents and unique scents,” said senior study author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
This is especially true of laundry pods, which come in snack-size packets and contain highly concentrated detergent that can be more harmful to kids who drink it or get it in their eyes. Eye injuries from pods surged during the study even though exposure to other types of detergent remained relatively constant, Smith said by email.
“This emphasizes the urgent need to increase efforts to prevent laundry detergent packet exposures among young children, including strengthening of the current safety standard for these packets,” Smith said.
Eye injuries from laundry pods can include redness and irritation, infections, corneal abrasions and burns, the study team notes. Eating or drinking the contents can cause seizures, coma, severe breathing impairments, and in rare cases can be fatal, previous research has found.
In the current study, bleaches were the cleaners people most often got in their eyes, accounting for about 26% of cases. Wall, floor, and tile cleaners made up another 13% of cases, followed by disinfectants at 11% and laundry detergents at 6%.
Drain cleaners, oven cleaners and dishwasher detergents were responsible for the most cases with serious health problems.
About 6% of cases with a known medical outcome caused no health effects, and another 82% caused only minor issues like redness or itchiness in the eyes. Roughly 12% of cases resulted in moderate medical issues, and only 0.2% involved severe problems.
The researchers only had data on cases voluntarily reported to poison control centers, so the results likely underestimate the number of injuries, the authors note. Another drawback is that researchers lacked data on health outcomes for many cases reported to poison control.
The results underscore that cleaning products should be kept where kids can’t get them, especially when there are toddlers and preschoolers in the home, said Dr. Lois Lee, an emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital who wasn’t involved in the study.
“This means keeping the contents in the original container, with the child proof cap on, and the container should be either locked away or placed on a high shelf, so young children can’t access the product,” Lee said by email. “Parents should also make sure to close the container of the cleaning product as soon as they have taken out what they need.”
For emergencies, parents should save the national Poison Help Line number in cellphone contacts and tape a copy of the number to any landlines, Smith advised. (In the U.S., call 1-800-222-1222; in the UK, 111; in Australia, 131 126.)
“Call immediately if you think your child has come into contact with a household cleaning product or other dangerous product,” Smith said. “You do not need to wait for symptoms to develop to call.”