Parents warned over liquitabs that look like sweets

As Medical Specialists Pharmacy reported back in May of this year, there is a growing problem with washing detergent pods or liquitabs as they are known. We reported how in America there had been a number of children who had been poisoned after mistaking the colourful liquitabs for sweets.

Now one of Britain’s biggest children’s hospitals is warning parents of the dangers of liquid tablets, used in dishwashers and washing machines after treating some children for near fatal injuries. Doctors at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow say, “A number of children have suffered serious injury after mistaking them for jelly sweets.” The hospital has admitted five children this year, all under two, who had either bitten into or squeezed the tabs.

Dr Lyndsay Fraser, from the hospital said, “Children are biting into the tablets, presumably because they think they are sweets. It really is only good fortune we haven’t seen a death. It is important parents realise that these liquid capsules are dangerous chemicals and they should be kept locked away.”

Shannon Hutchison told how her seven month old daughter Orla, spent 10 days in hospital after eating a detergent capsule. She said, “It was terrifying, I’m so lucky to still have my little girl. Now I make sure liquitabs are locked away and I tell everyone to do the same.”

Doctor Fraser said, “The number of enquiries to a poisons information service, about liquitab ingestion had doubled in the past five years. The liquitabs are a significant public health issue and manufacturers needed to take urgent action to improve packaging.”

“Some needed mechanical help to breathe and one needed surgery, after the corrosive chemicals caused extensive damage to their airway and throat” the doctors said. Elsewhere surgeons have had to carry out transplants of the oesophagus, or food pipe in the throat, after extensive damage caused by swallowing liquitabs.

In a letter to the journal, Archive of Diseases in Childhood, the doctors led by Lyndsay Fraser said, “Dishwasher and washing machine liquitabs are now a common finding in most homes but unfortunately seem very attractive to young children, due to their bright colouring and soft sweetie like texture.”

“To help prevent future potentially life threatening injuries, improved safety warnings and childproof packaging are urgently required.Most liquid detergent capsules do not come packaged in a childproof container and manufacturer compliance with packaging safety standards is currently voluntary.”

“We have written to the manufacturers to inform them of these cases and for prompt intervention. Parents also have a vital role to play in ensuring these products are stored safely at all times and public education is required, to highlight the danger of accidental ingestion.”

The National Poisoning Information Service received almost 4,000 online enquires about laundry liquitabs in 2009/10, an increase on the previous year’s total and a doubling for these products compared with five years ago, making them the most common household product to be accidentally swallowed. Previously doctors have warned of cases where children have suffered serious eye injuries, after squeezing the capsules until they burst.

Consultant anaesthetist Dr Isabeau Walker, at Great Ormond Street Hospital said, “The problem is these liquitabs do not taste bad so children do not spit them out, they swallow them and can suffer devastating injuries. Children explore the world with their hands and their mouths, so they will inevitably put these attractive capsules in their mouths. Childproof containers would be very sensible. They should also be stored out of reach and sight of children.”

Jennifer Henderson, home safety officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RSPA) in Scotland, concluded by saying, “The safe storage of all household chemicals is absolutely crucial and we encourage families to keep chemical items, like laundry detergents and other products in a lockable cupboard.”

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