Hand sanitizer misuse dangerous for kids

By Laura Mize • Published: June 23rd, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Hand sanitizer, a flu-season must-have for parents desperate to help their sniffle-prone children ward off sickness, can pose some dangers itself if it is misused.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted this growing problem in a recent report that said the most prevalent problem is children ingesting the gel, accidentally or on purpose, and becoming ill. It also mentioned the less-frequent, but still dangerous, instances of kids getting hand sanitizer in their eyes. The results of ingesting the gel range from stomach pain and vomiting to, in rare cases, falling into a coma. For eye mishaps, the most common result was chemical-induced pink eye.

Almost 71,000 problem exposures in kids age 12 and younger were reported to the National Poison Data System from 2011 to 2014. Most involved children age 5 or younger. The report noted the rate of exposure in children has been steadily climbing since 2005.

The CDC points out that children ages 6 to 12 were more likely to have intentional overexposure to hand sanitizers that contained alcohol. Alcoholic hand sanitizers often have between 60 percent and 95 percent ethanol or isopropyl alcohol by volume.

This link was not present among younger children, leading the authors to conclude that the older kids may be consuming the alcohol-based versions in a misguided attempt to get a little buzz.

Still, the majority of reported ingestion incidents were accidental. Many occurred in schools, the report pointed out, where hand sanitizer use is often promoted. The lesson for parents is to encourage their kids to use the gel as intended, while monitoring for dangerous misuse.