A recent surge in eye injuries among small children caused by exposure to capsules of liquid detergent prompted eye specialists to issue a warning about keeping the soap packets out of children’s reach. Writing in the British Medical Journal this week, a team of British eye doctors said that problems caused by exposure to the capsules accounted for 40% of all chemical-related eye injuries among children under age five at London’s Western Eye Hospital. What’s more, they cite data from a nearby hospital that had nearly 200 calls about capsule-related incidents among children in 2006–2007, and again in 2007–2008. Of those calls, approximately 20% had to do with eye injuries.
Most detergent capsules are made of a polyvinyl alcohol membrane that dissolves with exposure to water. If children play with the capsule, and it dissolves, they can then be exposed to the detergent contents—an alkali mixture which can cause serious chemical eye injuries that have long-term effects, including scarring, amblyopia (lazy eye), and persistent discomfort.
To prevent such serious injuries the authors recommend improvements in hazard labeling, including more prominent placement of warnings on detergent packaging. Additionally, of course, they stress the need to ensure that concentrated cleaning products, which contain potentially harmful chemicals, are kept out of children’s reach.