The Tide Pod Challenge is a really bad idea, and here’s why. (TL;DR DON’T EAT THEM.)
If you've been on the internet in the past week, you've probably read that people are eating Tide Pods for fun.
You'd like to believe nobody over the age of 5 wants to pop a laundry detergent pod in their mouth but, apparently, 2018 is full of surprises. So many people are eating the pods that Tide and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission have had to issue warnings. How is this even a thing?
What began as a satirical article about eating detergent pods in the Onion from 2015 — a harmless internet joke — turned into a dangerous meme that went viral in late 2017. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, centers across the country handled 39 cases of people intentionally ingesting laundry detergent in 2016 among people aged 13 to 19, 53 cases in 2017, and 39 in the first two weeks of 2018 alone, BuzzFeed News previously reported.
Up until then, the majority of calls made to poison control centers related to accidental poisoning from laundry pods were among children under 5, the AAPCC said in a statement. Actually, accidental poisonings in toddlers and young children was such a problem that it led to a change in packaging. But these are no curious children — these are teenagers (and some grown adults) chomping down on the liquid-filled packets.
So what actually happens to your body when you eat laundry detergent pods? We spoke to an expert to find out.
It should be obvious that the stuff inside laundry detergent pods isn't good for you. But how does it actually affect the body and what are the health risks? We spoke to Jana L. Anderson, pediatric emergency medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to find out.
First things first, what's inside these things? Laundry detergent pods, or single-load laundry packets, are full of various chemicals compounds, such as surfactants, which are great at cleaning clothes but not great for your body. Unlike regular liquid detergent, which typically just causes mild stomach upset, pods contain a highly concentrated liquid inside. So that little packet can do a lot more damage. "What's inside the pod will depend on the type — some have softener or bleach — but most are full of a very alkaline detergent," Anderson tells BuzzFeed News.
Although Tide Pods are the most popular, we're talking about any laundry detergent pod here. They're made by many other brands, such as All and Gain, and there are also generics. (Note: Anderson did not comment on any specific brand.)
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First, the pod will explode in your mouth and probably cause a lot of irritation and coughing or gagging.
"The pods are in plastic wrapping, which puts them under some pressure, so when you chew on them they will explode in the mouth and coat the mucous membranes inside," Anderson says. The alkaline pH of the highly concentrated liquid can cause immediate irritation in the mouth and vomiting, Anderson says. When the pod ruptures upon the first bite, it can also get in the eyes and cause burning or abrasions.
The nasty chemical taste and burning sensation causes most people to cough or gag and reflexively spit the pod contents out — unless you're a monster who enjoys the taste of detergent.
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If you swallow the detergent, it can cause burns to the esophagus and stomach, as well as gastrointestinal distress.
If you swallow the detergent pod — either after chewing it or whole — it can do even more damage. "The chemicals can cause burns on the back of mouth and down the esophagus," Anderson says. The detergent can also seriously irritate the lining of your stomach. "That's why the body typically immediately revolts and people vomit, because the stomach is burning," Anderson says.
When the detergent passes through the rest of your digestive tract, it can cause gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea. Not fun. "The one good thing is that it won't take that long for it to pass through your body, so you'll know within the first hour after ingesting it if something is going to happen," says Anderson. Some of the chemicals can depress the central nervous system, causing drowsiness.
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But the real danger is if you inhale the detergent while swallowing or vomiting — which can cause serious respiratory distress.
Most people will inhale or gasp right after they break open the pod in their mouth or while the liquid is going down their throat, Anderson says, so some of the detergent enters the trachea and lungs. "People can also cough and aspirate on their own vomit, which contains the detergent, so it can go into the lungs," Anderson says.
Once the detergent gets into the lungs, it can cause wheezing, coughing, and acute respiratory distress. "Anything like detergent that's very reactive, or contains surfactants, is going to be very irritating for the lungs," Anderson says. If someone gets to this point, they might need to be put on a ventilator.
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Eating laundry detergent pods can kill you, but you'd have to eat or inhale a LOT of detergent, and most deaths occur among small children.
"Technically, yes, you can die if you inhaled or ingest a very large amount of laundry detergent — and a small child could die from a single pod if they got enough of it in their lungs," Anderson says. When laundry detergent pod ingestion is fatal, it's usually due to a combination of things that lead to respiratory distress. "It causes an inflammatory cascade — so you get the irritation in the lungs, go into acute respiratory distress, and that leads to swelling and fluid pooling into the lungs which can be fatal," Anderson says.
Pod ingestion can also cause seizures or comas, according to AAPCC. Another serious complication from eating detergent pods is called "esophagus strictures." In the long term, the burns from the detergent can cause esophageal scarring, Anderson says, which can result in the esophagus actually tightening. "This puts you at higher risk for food impactions and choking."
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If you ingest laundry detergent, drink some water and call Poison Control. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the hospital.
The very first thing you should do is wash out the mouth and drink water or milk to dilute the detergent, Anderson says, and do not try to induce vomiting. Then you should call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) if the symptoms are mild or moderate. These include irritation and burning in the mouth and esophagus, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling in children.
"When you call Poison Control, be ready to tell them the exact brand and type of pod, because they need to know the specific ingredients and concentration of them to assess the situation," Anderson says. Poison Control will typically advise you to wait and monitor symptoms. "The good thing is that the detergent affects the body fairly quickly, so you'll know if something is going to happen within an hour," Anderson says.
If symptoms become severe or you experience prolonged vomiting, wheezing, severe drowsiness, or trouble breathing — call 911 or go to the hospital. When it comes to treatment, there's no detergent antidote. "We usually just offer supportive care, so if there's burning in the esophagus we'll give you an IV and an endoscopy or if you are in respiratory distress we'll put you on a CPAP or ventilator until things improve," Anderson says.
Typically, people who go into the hospital after swallowing detergent are out the next day without any issues, but it really depends on how many pods you eat and whether you ingest or inhale them.
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You might burn the membranes inside your mouth like we mentioned earlier, but if you didn't ingest anything then you are probably okay. However, you should still rinse your mouth out immediately and watch out for any symptoms. If you notice any anything, give Poison Control a call just to be safe.
AND DON'T DO IT AGAIN.
SO PLEASE, DO NOT EAT LAUNDRY DETERGENT PODS.
They won't even get you high, either.
Eat this decorative and detergent-free doughnut instead!
Hurts Donut / Via Facebook: HurtsDonutCompany
Or just actual gummy candy that isn't poisonous!
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But for your health (and our sanity), please do not ever eat a laundry detergent pod. Ever.
Author's note: I genuinely can't believe that I had to write this article.
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