Local health experts weigh in on dangers that come with "Tide Pod challenge"

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Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018
(News 12 NBC 26 News At 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's the latest social media challenge that's catching national attention, but doctors are saying the "Tide pod challenge" is no laughing matter for parents or for kids who might get their hands on them.

The challenge encourages people to hold laundry detergent pods in their mouths and then post videos of themselves doing it. It's already receiving criticism from parents and health officials over the dangers of participating and sharing these videos, even as YouTube and Facebook began removing videos of people doing it just last week.

Officials say children who have been exposed to the laundry pods have been hospitalized with vomiting, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. The new social media challenge has already landed dozens of teenagers and children across the country in hospitals, including three across Georgia and South Carolina that have needed treatment after biting into one of those pods.

Some local parents are sitting down with their children to warn them about the dangers that come with it as experts send out reminders about what could come with just one bite.

When the clothes stack up, Amanda Scouten's laundry days can be a challenge. But with the "Tide pod challenge" making its way across social media, she remembers when she first bought a packet of the pods and how she handled them around her kids.

"We used them for awhile when the kids were little," Scouten says. "We just kept them up on a shelf and, as they got older, told them it's not food. I'd think we'd have to keep little ones out of it but not teenagers."

But as the challenge has gained popularity, she says she's had to sit down with her two kids and set the record straight.

"I said, 'Would you go into the laundry room and grab a cup of the liquid detergent and drink it?' They said no and I told them you wouldn't want to do this either," Scouten says. "It's not candy, it's not cool, it's not fun. You could die."

Doctors say kids are attracted to these laundry pods because of their squishiness, their smell and the fact that they look like a regular piece of candy. But they also warn that if you decide to pop one of these in your mouth, you'll be in for a world of pain. Dr. Gaylord Lopez with the Georgia Poison Control Center says the pods contain a stronger and higher-concentrated detergent that can wreak havoc on your insides, especially your lungs and throat.

"When you're talking about liquid material getting in contact with skin, with the tissue in your mouth, when it explodes you get this super-compact of detergent and this has the potential to irritate and damage skin that it comes in contact with and, in some cases, get into the lungs and cause life-threatening symptoms."

It's not the first time they've had to deal with calls of accidental or intentional exposure to these pods. He says the Georgia Poison Control Center took more than 400 calls last year concerning accidental exposure to laundry pods, while South Carolina's Poison Control officials says they take around 200 similar calls a year.

The American Association of Poison Control says they received more than 10,500 calls and reports of children ages five and younger that were exposed to these pods. Dr. Lopez says the side effects once it reaches the stomach are normally nausea, fluid loss and extreme vomiting.

"When you're talking about fluid loss, the people who are going to be the most susceptible are very young children," Dr. Lopez says. "And, in fact, 90 percent of our calls are about children under the age of five. So when they get these things in their mouths, the little ones can run into big-time problems. When you're talking about someone who's a little bit older like folks doing the challenge, they run into problems too. But the wrong amount of substance that gets into their system can cause a lot of issues."

It's why Scouten is making sure her kids know the danger and why she's warning them about these viral videos.

"I don't know where they are but I wish they would stop," Scouten says, "and maybe do something on a more positive note when it comes to encouraging kids to do stuff."

Dr. Lopez says these pods can do damage even if you bite into one while not swallowing one entirely. But if your child does accidentally swallow one, he recommends not forcing your child to throw up as that could actually do more damage by bringing those chemicals back up your child's throat.

He also says don't make them eat or drink anything for a few hours afterwards, to call the poison center and 911 just to be safe.