Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Keep kids away from detergent capsules, parents warned

A child's eye
The alkaline solution in liquid detergent capsules can damage a child's eyes

Parents are being warned to keep washing detergent capsules away from children after an increase in chemical injuries at a London eye hospital.

Thirteen children treated for this type of injury who were aged under five had been playing with the capsules.

Eye doctors say children are attracted by the colourful and malleable nature of the capsules.

If the capsule breaks, it releases a harmful alkaline solution which can cause scarring or even blindness.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Melanie Corbett, consultant ophthalmologist at the Western Eye Hospital said: "Parents must keep liquid detergent capsules out of children's reach - their contents can cause irreversible damage to the eye.

"If any chemical enters your child's eye, you should wash it out immediately, with large quantities of water," she added.

She started screaming and crying. It was horrible to see her so distressed
Amina, mother of two-year old eye injury victim

The cleaning products industry introduced liquid capsules as fabric detergents for the first time in 2001.

Inside most of these capsules is a water soluble polyvinyl alcohol membrane. Alkali injuries are the most severe form of chemical eye injury and can cause irreversible damage.

Ayanie Roberts was two years old when she was treated at the Western Eye Hospital after playing with liquid detergent capsules.

Her mum Amina said: "She climbed on a chair to reach the shelf where I kept the capsules and one burst in her face.

"She started screaming and crying. It was horrible to see her so distressed.

"We went to the Western Eye Hospital where they had to keep washing her eyes out. Thankfully there was no long-term damage but it was very scary thinking what might have happened."

Safety checks

As a result of the Western Eye Hospital's work with the National Poisons Unit at Guy's Hospital in London, Dr Corbett says hazard warning labels are more prominent on detergent packaging.

But she says that more still needs to be done to raise awareness of the dangers.

A spokesperson for the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association said all liquid detergent sachets have to undergo stringent safety evaluation - including eye irritancy - before they can be made available to consumers.

Philip Malpass added: "We welcome the report as it highlights in particular the role that parents have to play in following guidance for the safe use of our products, including storing products safely at all times."

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