Popping and eating Tide Pods can cause chemical burns to any part of your body the highly concentrated detergent touches, experts warn.
The first ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ video went viral on January 7, and nearly 40 teenagers have ended up in poison control centers across the US since.
The detergent pods contain a number of chemicals that are relatively safe in low concentrations, but condensed as they are in the pods, the ingredients can erode fatty cell membranes, chemically burning the skin, eyes, mouth, throat and gastrointestinal system.
Daily Mail Online breaks down just how the gummy-looking pods can be deadly.
Detergent is densely packed into the pods and enclosed by a plastic membrane, which creates some pressure.
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Teenagers eating detergent packets for the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ that went viral on January 6 are consuming concentrated chemicals that can cause chemical burning to any tissue they touch, severely impairing the functions of organs like the lungs
‘If it pops and goes into your throat, that’s where the danger happens,’ explains Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
The first thing you might notice after biting into the brightly colored bubble is its bitter taste.
After there was an initial wave of children eating the appealing-looking pods when they were introduced in 2012, Tide added an ingredient called denatonium benzoate to the pods.
Denatonium benzoate is supposedly the most bitter-tasting known substance, so the company hoped that flavour would encourage young children to spit out the detergent, and make them never want to try a taste again.
But it doesn’t work so well with teenagers who are eating the pods exactly because they are unpleasant.
Worse still, as soon as the pod bursts, even if you try to spit its contents out, it may already be too late, Spiller says.
The bitter, chemical taste may make people ‘cough or spit it out, and they think that’s enough but it’s not.’
Irritation causes immediate gagging, coughing and nausea in most people, Spiller says.
Because it isn’t diluted like detergent in a bottle, the highly-concentrated soap chemicals ‘act like a corrosive,’ within moments of contact.
Detergent pods first caused alarm shortly after they were introduced in 2012, because young children thought the toxic packets looked like gummy candy. Now, teenagers are eating them as part a dangerous social media fad
‘If you get this into the back of the throat, to the epiglottis and pharynx and it stays there for a little while, it literally burns the tissue,’ Spiller explains.
The burn to the pharynx, or throat, can make breathing, eating and drinking painful and difficult.
If the epiglottis – the flap of tissue that covers the airway so that food and liquid do not get into the lungs – is burned, it may become swollen and not open the way it is supposed to in order to allow air into the lungs.
The thicker membrane, meant to make the pods safer because they are harder for small children to eat, ‘may be counterintuitively worse for them,’ Spiller says.
You can get injuries to any of these, if you get a whole big glob of this concentrated stuff, it’s just a matter of where did it go
Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Especially when it comes to older people who ‘put the pods on their back grinder [teeth] for bigger pressure, then the whole pod is in the mouth, and the likelihood of it squirting backwards is just much greater.’
As they choke and sputter on the contents, people are more likely to inhale sharply, sending the detergent into the lungs.
‘Those are the ones that intubation and ventilation,’ Spiller says.
In one of his hospital’s several studies on the health effects of detergent pods, he says there were 15 children that had to be put on ventilators.
When the chemicals reach the lungs, they burn the fragile air sacs through which the body absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide.
When these tissues get burned by the concentrated, caustic agents, ‘air exchange isn’t working very well.’
The failed air exchange can leave someone oxygen deprived, or hypoxic, which in turn can depress the central nervous system.
In the rare cases that children have ended up in comas – sometimes lasting days – after eating the pods, it was probably due to this lack of oxygen, Spiller says.
Since the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ went viral on January 6, teenagers across the US have been snapping pictures of themselves popping the detergent packs, sickening nearly 40 of them
After the lungs have been burned, doctors have to intubate their detergent-eating patients, so that the lungs do not have to work while they heal. In some cases, Spiller says they will gently rinse the lungs with water to dilute the caustic substances lodged there.
And it doesn’t take much. There are between 20 and 30ml of detergent. That’s roughly the equivalent of four to six teaspoons, but Spiller says that just half a teaspoon would be enough to cause major damage, because there is so much chemical packed into the pods.
He says that, though no one should be ingesting it, traditional detergent does not pose the same level of risks to children (or teenagers).
When reports of the dangers of the pods began emerging, Spiller and his team suspected there was a new, more dangerous ingredient but were surprised to find that this was not the case, it was just too much more of the same thing.
Chemical burns can happen when a substance with a very basic or alkaline – rather than acidic – pH comes into contact with tissue.
Detergent’s alkaline agents bust grease, which comes from fat. But our cell membranes are also made up of fat, as well as protein, so something too basic can bust up cell membranes, too, leading to chemical burns.
The pods passed safety tests, appearing to be relatively neutral, but Spiller says there is a trick to that.
‘The odd thing about chemistry is that if you’re trying to measure pH and there’s no water in it, you can’t measure it accurately.’
The highly basic pods burn tissue surfaces because they contain next to no water to dilute them.
People are actually better off if they swallow the pods, because the chemicals become more diluted.
But the irritation can still cause diarrhea, and, in extreme cases, gastrointestinal bleeding.
‘You can get injuries to any of these, if you get a whole big glob of this concentrated stuff, it’s just a matter of where did it go,’ Spiller says.
The bottom line: ‘Just don’t do it,’ he pleads.