Tide Pod Challenge: A Deadly Dare

Premier Health Now

A dangerous trend is circulating among teens on social media.

Kids are daring each other to eat colorful laundry detergent pods and document the event on video for everyone to see. They call it the Tide pod challenge.

While risk-taking behaviors are part of growing up, this latest version is disturbing because it encourages teens to take poison, says Mark Williams, MD, primary care physician, Beavercreek Family Medicine.

“This is something parents need to talk to their kids about,” says Dr. Williams.

Tide pods are highly concentrated, attractive packs of chemicals designed to break down dirt, proteins, fats and sugars — the things that clothing stains are made of.

The problem? That same detergent is highly toxic to the human body.

“Our tissues in the lungs, digestive tract and mouth are all made of proteins and fats, so those detergents can cause serious damage,” Dr. Williams says. “The pods will break down body tissues just like a barbecue stain on a shirt.”

The lungs are especially vulnerable. The chemicals can be inhaled by nose or sucked directly into the lungs (aspiration) if a child chokes or vomits. This can cause breathing problems and infection.

Laundry detergent foams when it gets wet. In the lungs, pod toxins form bubbles, preventing oxygen from entering.

“It is like drowning,” says Dr. Williams. If someone swallows a pod, take immediate action:

  • Rinse the mouth with water and spit it out.
  • Call 911 if your child has trouble breathing.
  • If your child is stable, call your local Poison Control center for advice.
  • Do not let your child eat or drink anything until you get medical help.

Parents can use this latest trend to start a non-judgmental conversation with their children about social media and why it is important to them.

Adolescence is when children feel invincible, test boundaries and try to find their way in the world. Completing dares is one way children cement their place in the pecking order, Dr. Williams says.

“Like with everything else, there is good and bad involved with social media,” Dr. Williams says. “Having a discussion about when it crosses the line is important for parents to reinforce with their kids.”