Miniature laundry detergent packets arrived on store shelves in recent months as an alternative to bulky bottles and messy spills. But doctors across the country say children are confusing the tiny, brightly colored packets with candy and swallowing them.
Nearly 250 cases have been reported this year to poison control centers. Though they remain a tiny fraction of the thousands of poisoning calls received every year, doctors are concerned. The symptoms they see in connection with ingesting the packets -- such as nausea and breathing problems -- are more severe than typical detergent poisoning. No deaths have been reported.
"We're not quite sure why it's happening," said Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, a Dallas toxicologist and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "But we've clearly had some kids who have become much more ill. We look at these pods as being clearly more dangerous than the standard detergent."
Tide, Purex and other detergent manufacturers introduced different versions of the packets earlier this year. The lightweight, colorfully swirled plastic packets contain a single-use amount of detergent that dissolves in water. They're intended to be dropped into a laundry machine in place of liquid or powder detergent.
Several poison control centers started to get calls from parents about the packets in March and April, soon after they were introduced in earnest. Texas reported 71 instances of exposure this year, all but one in March or later. Missouri reported 25 cases related to the packets, and Illinois reported 26.
"If you look at the Tide Pods, they're bright blue and bright red, and they look very similar to some of the ribbon candy," said Julie Weber, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center in St. Louis.
Paul Fox, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Tide, says all cleaning products need to be handled carefully. He said Tide was working with poison control centers and advocacy groups to make sure parents know more about the risks.