The Tide Pod Challenge for Medical Professionals

Posted on  May 2, 2018

 

No one knows who woke up one morning and thought: “I’ve got a great idea! Why don’t I consume liquid laundry detergent covered in a water soluble plastic compound, see how sick it makes me, and then challenge other people to do the same?”

A recap: “The Tide Pod Challenge” is currently going around social media platforms such as YouTube and Snapchat. This experiment is popular with teenagers and young adults (so there’s no need to say that trying to talk sense to them won’t work).

Most medical professionals will only be exposed to a participating individual once the deed has been done. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 10,570 cases of detergent exposure reported to poison centers in 2017 for children 5 and younger, while from January 1, 2018 through March 31, 2018 there have been reports of 1,922 exposures to highly concentrated packets of laundry detergent by children 5 and younger and 215 exposures to teenagers.

The most dangerous ingredient is 1,4 Dioxane, which is an extremely high intensity form of a concentrated laundry liquid pod.

So, what happens when someone takes on this dare? Some are lucky and nothing much happens (other than a terrible taste that stays with them as a reminder of their accomplishment). For others, it’s anything from mild stomach upset to vomiting and breathing problems. There is also the possibility of long term kidney and lung damage.

It’s easy to feel a lack of sympathy towards individuals who present themselves with an illness as a result of a stunt; however, this is the latest in a series of self-inflicted risks. They are as old as humanity and have often resulted in a trip to a doctor or ER. Since the advent of social media, dares have proliferated.

Scientists continue to study the psychological effect of risk taking by younger people. It seems the chemical and cellular changes in the brain when it is not fully matured may promote novelty and sensation-seeking behaviors.

Puberty is the culprit, with its ramped up hormones and rushes of the “feel good” dopamine driving the brain to seek out constant stimuli and reward. Add the peer pressure every adolescent faces and it’s easier to understand that risk-taking is part of growing up.

On top of this is that fact that it’s not unusual to find children under the age of 5 or people with dementia having ingested Tide Pods because they look like candies.

So, how does the medical profession see this fad (apart from the health-related concerns)? The industry has engaged with the makers of the product, who are responding to the issue via brand reputation and education. Some say the pods look “too attractive.” New York lawmakers want that to change, but that may not solve the problem.

Despite the many messages the company can issue via influencers on social media, ultimately it comes down to consumer responsibility. There will always be people who misuse products; there will always be those who are risk takers; and, more pertinently, young people will seek attention, notoriety and peer approval while ignoring “experts.”

So, once the physical symptoms have been presented, a health professional most likely doesn’t need to include a stern lecture (no doubt someone else will have done that many times over!). Perhaps the discussion should be directed to the family circle of the patient, explaining the development of the brain and how it influences risk taking and an acknowledgement of peer pressure in the age of social media.

Then, just accept it’s out of your hands.

 
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