Researchers call for families with young children to switch to conventional laundry detergent over pods, as it is less toxic.
What is more, the study - published in the journal Pediatrics - reveals that laundry detergent pods account for 60 percent of all detergent-related calls to U.S. poison centers involving young children.
The study authors - including senior author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH - call for families with young children to use conventional laundry detergent in the form of powder over detergent pods, as powder is significantly less toxic.
While laundry detergent pods might be a more convenient way to wash clothes, they can pose a number of health hazards for young children if ingested, including choking, coughing and vomiting.
In more severe cases, children may experience respiratory illness, heart problems and even death.
Last year, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) addressed such health hazards with announcement of new safety standards for laundry detergent pods, which state that the packaging for the products should mask its content, include labels warning of the health hazards and be difficult for children to access.
But according to some healthcare experts, more needs to be done to reduce the number of incidents involving child ingestion of laundry detergent pods.
"This voluntary standard is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened," says Dr. Smith. "Unless this unacceptably high number of exposures declines dramatically, manufacturers need to continue to find ways to make this product and its packaging safer for children."
17 percent rise in calls for laundry detergent pod exposure
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed 2013-2014 data from the National Poison Data System in order to identify the number of calls made to poison centers in the U.S. that involved exposure to laundry or dishwasher detergents among children under the age of 6 years.
The team found that 62,254 calls were made relating to such exposures, and 60 percent of these calls were for exposure to laundry detergent pods.
Additionally, laundry detergent pod-related calls involving young children saw the biggest increase in 2013-2014, at 17 percent; U.S. poison centers received an average of 30 calls daily for such exposure - the equivalent to one call every 45 minutes.
In around 45 percent of calls involving laundry detergent pod exposure, the child was referred to a healthcare facility for evaluation and treatment.
In comparison, 17 percent of children exposed to traditional laundry detergent, 5 percent of those exposed to dishwasher detergent pods and 4 percent of those exposed to traditional dishwasher detergent were referred.
Laundry detergent pod exposure responsible for two child deaths
Compared with children exposed to other forms of laundry or dishwasher detergents, those exposed to laundry detergent pods were much more likely to experience clinical effects, severe medical outcomes, hospitalization or incubation.
Children exposed to laundry detergent pods were the only ones to experience severe side effects, including breathing problems, heart problems, coma, and death, according to the researchers.
They note that at least one child a day was hospitalized due to exposure to laundry detergent pods in 2013-2014, and there were two child deaths due to such exposure.
The researchers say their findings indicate that current safety standards for laundry detergent pods need to be intensified in order to protect child health.
Furthermore, they call for parents with young children in the family to switch to conventional laundry detergent - a safer alternative to laundry detergent pods.
Study co-author Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children's Hospital and medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, adds:
"Many families don't realize how toxic these highly concentrated laundry detergent packets are. Use traditional laundry detergent when you have young kids in your home. It isn't worth the risk when there is a safer and effective alternative available."
For households with young children who do use laundry detergent pods, the researchers recommend storing the pods out of children's sight, preferably in a locked cabinet. Laundry detergent pod packets or containers should be closed and stored away straight after use.
The team also recommends families with young children store the national Poison Help Line number - 1-800-222-1222 - on their cell phone or have it close to their home phone.