A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology stated that an increasing number of toddlers are suffering eye burns as a result of coming into contact with laundry packets. We spoke to Dr. Kenneth Kwon, director of pediatric emergency services at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, about what parents should know about this hidden household danger.
Q: Are laundry packets a serious danger to children? Should parents be concerned?
A: Yes, they are a serious danger. The colorful and candy-like appearance of these packets makes them particularly attractive and dangerous to children.
Q: There are many products in a typical home that could be harmful if accidentally ingested. Where do laundry packets fall on the scale?
A: On a scale of 1 to 10, with ingesting cyanide or a poison causing death in minutes considered a ten, the chemicals in these laundry packets would be an 8. Standard liquid household detergents, such as bleach, would be considered a 3 or 4. However, due to the concentrated nature of the chemicals in these laundry packets, they are much more likely to cause serious injury in a very short period of time if ingested. These liquids are alkali in nature and are considered caustic substances, similar to acidic chemicals. The public may be under the misconception that alkali chemicals are less dangerous than acidic chemicals, but when ingested, alkali chemicals tend to cause much deeper and serious injuries to the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract than acidic substances.
Q: Another common injury stemming from laundry packets is eye burns. Why are eyes so susceptible to damage? What treatment can parents do at home?
A: Eyes are particularly susceptible because children tend to bite into or try to open these packets, and contents can very easily splash into the eyes causing burns to the cornea and surrounding parts of the eye. The cornea, which is the top layer of the eye, has little to no blood supply, which can impair or limit healing, leading to permanent vision problems. The most common symptoms of an eye burn are pain, redness, tearing and vision problems. If you suspect that your child may have an eye burn, irrigate the area under cold running water for at least ten minutes and then take the child immediately to the ED for further irrigation and treatment.
Q: Children often get into laundry packets, or other household chemicals, when left unattended only for a moment. What are the warning signs parents should be aware of that their child has ingested something dangerous?
A: Commons signs include difficult or painful swallowing, drooling, oral pain, chest or abdominal pain, vomiting, excessive crying, or breathing or speech problems.
Q: How can parents know what to treat at home versus when to seek emergency medical care?
A: If known or suspected exposure to laundry packets with any symptoms, bring your child immediately to the ED. If the eye is involved, irrigate with running water for at least 10 minutes before transport. Administration of a neutralizing or diluting agent is not recommended for a suspected ingestion. If possible exposure to an opened packet with no symptoms, call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 for further direction.
Q: What can parents do to prevent their children from getting their hands on laundry packets or other chemicals or medication in the home?
A: The best prevention is elimination of laundry packets from the home. Since there are so many cleaning detergent alternatives available, why even introduce laundry packets into the home at all if you have small children? If these packets are in the home, make sure to keep them high up in overhead cabinets in the laundry room out of reach of children. Certainly avoid storing these packets in the kitchen or pantry area, as they can easily be mistaken for food or candy. Lastly, periodically check your house to make sure that dangerous medications and chemicals are safely out of reach of toddlers and children. Childproofing the home should occur as regularly as cleaning your home.