By Rayiah Ross
What began as a harmless internet joke about eating detergent pods on the Onion in 2015 has turned into a dangerous trend, continuing to go viral. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, hubs 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. The “Tide Pod Challenge” is officially―and, may I say, sadly―blowing up on the internet. Essentially, the challenge is a social media phenomenon that has inspired a number of memes about people wanting to eat the colorful detergent pods. Although the challenge is mostly a joke, an increasing number of teenagers have reportedly been eating laundry pods.
Laundry detergent pods are full of various chemical compounds 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,” Jana L. Anderson, pediatric emergency medicine physician, tells BuzzFeed News.
When the pod ruptures upon the first bite, it can get in the eyes and cause burning or abrasions. The nasty chemical taste and burning sensation causes most people to cough or gag. “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.
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 addresses. “People can also cough and aspirate on their own vomit, which contains the detergent, so it can go into the lungs.” Once the detergent gets into the lungs, it can cause wheezing, coughing, and acute respiratory distress.
YouTube is taking down videos showing people eating laundry detergent after the challenge went viral. “YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm,” the company said in a statement to Fast Company. “We work quickly to remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”
This may seem like a joke, but with all seriousness, if you or someone you know ingests a laundry pod or another potentially toxic substance, call the national poison help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 or text POISON to 797979. And remember: don’t eat Tide pods. Just don’t.