The Hidden Danger of Hand Sanitizer - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on December 01, 2015

The Hidden Danger of Hand Sanitizer

The Hidden Danger of Hand Sanitizer

Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of reach
of children and supervise them when they use it.

It seems like you can’t go anywhere without spotting hand sanitizer out for anyone to use: hospitals, grocery stores, schools, shopping malls, and more. And when we get into the peak of cold and flu season, you likely won’t want to go anywhere without your own personal bottle of hand sanitizer.

While hand sanitizer is a great way to kill germs and bacteria on your hands when you can’t get to a sink with soap and water, it’s not without its risks to health.

Specifically, hand sanitizer becomes incredibly harmful and dangerous when a child consumes it.

Since 2010, poison control center hotlines across the U.S. have seen a nearly 400 percent increase in calls related to children younger than 12 years old ingesting hand sanitizer.

The amount of alcohol in hand sanitizers ranges from 45 percent to 95 percent. Ingesting just small amounts, even just two or three squirts, can lead to alcohol poisoning. Wine and beer contain about 12 percent and 5 percent alcohol.

Alcohol poisoning can cause confusion, vomiting, drowsiness and, in severe cases, a child can stop breathing after ingesting hand sanitizer. A lick of hand sanitizer won’t be fatal to a child, but it does contain alcohol and should be stored like other potential poisons in your home.

Hand sanitizer is not considered more dangerous than other sources of alcohol in a child’s environment. But just like beer, wine and liquor, you shouldn’t let a child have easy access to hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol or any mouthwash and facial toner that contain alcohol.

There are two issues with children and alcohol.

First, alcohol can lower their blood sugar, which is why the first line of treatment after a child consumes alcohol is to give them something sweet to drink. In extreme situations, if a child ingests alcohol and it goes untreated, it can lead to coma and seizures. If a child drinks hand sanitizer, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 – a poison specialist will calculate the amount of alcohol swallowed compared to the child's body weight. If the child drank too much, they’ll be sent to the emergency room to prevent breathing problems.

The second problem with children ingesting the alcohol in hand sanitizer is that it can make them drunk. Not only does it make them woozy, but is slows their heart rate and breathing.

The bottom line? Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of reach of children and supervise them when they’re using it. And, whenever you can, use soap and water to clean you and your child’s hands. While hand sanitizers can kill bacteria and some viruses, they can’t kill all of them.

Washing your hands with soap and water is safe and effective. Hand washing reduces absenteeism in schools, which means less missed days of work for you.

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