A campaign has been launched by doctors to warn parents of the dangers of liquitabs, the liquid detergent capsules used in dishwashers and washing machines.
Five children under the age of two have been admitted to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow this year alone after biting into the bright-coloured capsules which can cause chemical burns to the throat and eyes. The youngest child was just 10 months old.
Doctors say the detergent capsules contain strong alkaline cleaning agents which can "destroy tissue and cause intense inflammation and swelling".
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 anything up to two weeks whilst the swelling settles. One of the children required further surgery to repair the damage caused by the liquitab.
Dr Fraser added: "It really is only good fortune that we haven’t seen a death resulting from this type of injury."
Staff at the hospital have been alarmed by the number of children recently admitted as emergency cases the have published a letter in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood journal to alert medical colleagues and parents as to the dangers of liquitabs.
Last year the National Poisoning Information Service received 647 phone calls and nearly 4000 online searches about eating or swallowing the contents of liquitabs, from healthcare professionals. This is more than double the number of enquiries compared with five years ago.
Dr Fraser said: "Most parents are not aware of the dangers of these common household items, commonly storing them in unlocked cupboards within potential reach of their child.
"Liquitabs are attractive to young children due to their bright colouring and soft texture. Most liquitab brands do not come packaged in child proof containers so it is easy to access to them especially if they are left within reach and sight of young children or toddlers.
"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. Wherever possible and as with all household cleaning products and bleaches they should be stored in a locked cupboard or in a cupboard that cannot be accessed by children."