If you’ve sent your kids out the door with those cute little bottles of hand sanitizer in their backpacks, lunchboxes and gym bags, you may want to check the ingredient labels to see if ethanol or isopropyl alcohol is listed. If it is, it’ll top the list as the No. 1 ingredient — as much as 60% to 95% according to the CDC. In its new report, the CDC cited information from the National Poison Data System showing that between 2011 and 2014, more than 70,000 children aged 12 and under ingested hand sanitizer and suffered at least one adverse health effect.
Some of those ingestions, especially in children aged 6 to 12, were intentional. So much so that the CDC is suggesting alcohol-based hand sanitizer “might be a product of intentional abuse among older children.”
Why kids are ingesting toxic levels of hand sanitizer:
- The alcohol effects (older kids)
- Some of them smell like baked goods, fruits and other yummy treats (younger kids)
“Hand sanitizer is actually rather potent,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It’s about 60 percent alcohol, or 120 proof, so it packs a punch. Children don’t process alcohol the same way adults do, so it has higher toxic effects for them.”
How kids are taking in toxic levels of hand sanitizer:
- Drinking it
- Getting it in their eyes
- Inhaling it
- Absorbing too much through their skin
Reported adverse health effects from ingesting toxic levels of alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
- Acidosis (a reaction to chemical toxins with symptoms including breathing problems, confusion, headache, fatigue and rapid heartbeat)
- Eye irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
Christopher Ramos, MD, a gastroenterologist at Medical City Alliance, urges everyone — including physicians — to keep the number for Poison Control (800.222.1222) handy and make them one of your first calls (along with 911 if necessary) in a suspected substance emergency: Their experts will do a phone consult and let you know what to do.
Alternatives to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Consider nonalcoholic hand sanitizer alternatives, but be aware that the majority of ingestions are accidental, so you may want to forego hand sanitizer altogether or purchase hand sanitizer wipes. And there’s always good old-fashioned handwashing.
“It’s important to remember that just good handwashing is more effective than hand sanitizer,” Dr. Mitchell said.
Below, Matt Bush, MD, shows correct handwashing technique and how to make it fun by using the “Happy Birthday” song as a timer.
If your child has an adverse or allergic reaction to anything he or she eats or touches, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.
Find a fast Medical City ER near you.