Parents are being warned about the dangers of liquid detergent capsules used in dishwashers and washing machines following a number of cases of children biting into them.
Five toddlers aged under two have been admitted to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow this year after possibly mistaking them for jelly sweets, doctors said.
The contents of the capsules cause an immediate chemical burn, resulting in breathing problems as the airway swells. Parents should take a child to their nearest A&E if it is suspected they have swallowed something poisonous. The consequences could be fatal without medical attention.
Dr Lyndsay Fraser, from the hospital's ear, nose and throat department, said: "We have known for some time about the risk of eye injuries from kids squeezing these liquitabs until they burst. What we have seen more recently is that children are biting into the tablets, presumably because they think they are sweets as they have the same soft texture and bright colouring.
"The alkaline chemicals in the liquitab cause an immediate chemical burn, causing breathing problems as the airway starts to swell rapidly. Getting them to hospital straight away is imperative. In most of the cases seen so far, we have had to insert a breathing tube to protect the child's airway from the swelling and help them breathe. If these children hadn't reached A&E on time, the airway could close over completely with potentially fatal consequences."
Once the breathing tube is inserted, children can be on a ventilator for as long as two weeks until the swelling settles. One child admitted to the hospital required further surgery to repair the damage caused by the capsule.
Dr Fraser said: "It really is only good fortune that we haven't seen a death resulting from this type of injury. It is important parents realise that these liquid capsules are dangerous chemicals and they should be kept locked away so children can't reach them. They must be stored safely at all times, out of reach and sight of young children."
Shannon Hutchison ended up calling an ambulance for her seven-month-old daughter Orla who ate the contents of a tablet. Orla was rushed to intensive care and spent 10 days in hospital.
"Now I make sure that all the liquitabs are locked away and I tell everyone to do the same. The boxes they come in really should be child-proof and I hope manufacturers do something about this as I wouldn't want this to happen to any other little girl or boy."
Dr Fraser and his colleagues have published a letter in the medical journal Archives of Diseases in Childhood to alert medics and parents to the danger.