It’s known as the “Forbidden Fruit Challenge,” or the “Tide Pod Challenge,” and you may have already heard of this social media trend, which gets teens to film themselves sticking laundry detergent pods into their mouths and chewing on them. Although the main goal has been to upload the videos to gain internet fame, one teen ended up struggling to stay alive.
“JR,” a 17-year-old boy from America, shared with his friends that he wanted to “experience the greatness of laundry pod flavor,” in January. He also told them that it would make him an internet sensation. To increase the risk factor, he didn’t put just one laundry pod into his mouth, he put three pods instead. This would end up being one of the hugest mistakes he’s ever made.
JR was all set to pull this trick off. He had three detergent pods, which he got from the laundry room. Then he placed his phone by the kitchen sink to record. He intended to take a quick bite of the pods before spitting the contents out right away. But he didn’t realize that the pods were going to do the same thing to his body that they did to dirt on clothes: eliminate.
The teen pierced the vinyl film that enclosed the detergent inside the three pods he put in his mouth. But he noticed a burning feeling going up his nose almost immediately. So, he tried spitting the pods out over the sink, but it was no use. The liquid detergent was already in his mouth. His tongue was wracked with a sensation that went from burning to numbing, and that’s when things became a nightmare.
The liquid continued to seep into JR’s throat, even as his gag reflex kicked in and he retched and coughed. But as his uncontrollable coughing continued, it forced the detergent into his trachea, which flooded his airway. What’s worse, his lungs were being flooded with detergent each time he coughed. His mother, Jane, heard her son’s turmoil and rushed into the kitchen, where she saw a horrific sight.
Jane’s son was vomiting and foaming at the mouth. Then he grabbed his chest and screamed in agony as the chemicals from the detergent began to burn his esophagus and stomach. JR had a tough time breathing because of his compromised airways, and now his lips were turning blue. Jane didn’t know what was happening, and then she saw the detergent ponds in the sink, which were all chewed up.
JR’s mom called poison control, who advised her to avoid inducing vomiting and to give her son water. But they told her to call 911 when she told them his lips were blue. By the time the ambulance got to their home, he was groggy and was about to lose consciousness. Eventually, he made it to the ER, but he was still in danger.
In the ER, JR was no longer conscious, which put him at risk of respiratory failure. The injuries to his airways were preventing air flow, which was reducing his blood oxygen levels too. He was also experiencing tachycardia. Without medical assistance, his heart was going to stop and he would probably die. So, doctors started intubating him.
Doctors managed to stabilize his airways and stop him from going into respiratory arrest by intubating him. But there was no cure for laundry detergent poisoning, so all they could really do was monitor him and treat his symptoms. After learning that her son nearly died and needed a lot of medical care to recover, Jane wondered how laundry detergent could act so fast and virulent.
Unlike regular detergent, laundry pods are highly concentrated. So, the smallest amount is more effective than its bottled counterpart. Also, laundry detergent was designed to attach to water and grease so it could remove fabric stains. Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons that the pods are so deadly to ingest.
Oil and water don’t mix, but the chemicals in most detergents are attracted to fat and water. So, as one detergent molecule attaches to the water molecules, the other attaches itself to the fat molecules. This results in a process called emulsion, which provides an efficient way to wash stains and grease from clothes right away. But inside the body, the results of ingesting this product can be downright catastrophic.
The mucous membrane, which is found in the lungs, esophagus, and mouth are always moist. But these surfaces also have fat in the cells’ outer membrane, particularly in the epithelial lining. So, detergent molecules attach to the water and fat, which rip the cell membrane open, spilling its contents out and essentially kills it. While the ER doctors prevent JR’s heart and respiratory systems from shutting down, there was already a lot of tissue damage.
Ingesting laundry detergent can produce several kinds of injuries. Liquefactive necrosis occurs when the detergent makes contact with the mucous areas. It also disintegrates the esophageal lining, which could tear the tissue. Another outcome could include coagulation necrosis, which occurs when blood clots prevent oxygen flow, resulting in hypoxemia. Doctors gave JR cortical steroids and prophylactic antibiotics to reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of infection. But his recovery was going to be lengthy.
JR had to eat through a nasogastric tube because the chemical burns on his esophagus made it impossible to swallow. He was closely monitored at the hospital for a couple of days, while he likely experienced a great deal of discomfort. But while the experience nearly killed him, he learned a tough lesson that he should have realized from the beginning. But although it almost killed JR, kids are still trying this stunt.
Previous cases of laundry detergent ingestion were limited to mentally impaired elderly patients and young children. Now, it’s become an issue with teens. In 2016 alone, poison control centers across America have dealt with 39 cases of laundry pod ingestion among teens ages 13 through 19. But thanks to social media, that number has increased in the first two weeks of 2018 alone.