The Risks Associated with Hand Sanitizers and Young Children

Hand sanitizers have become increasingly popular over the years as people have become more fearful of germs and what they can do to our bodies. Sanitizers contain approximately 70-90% alcohol content that allows for the immediate removal of germs on your hands. But recent studies show that children may become poisoned by the sanitizers if the children were to ingest them—also a trend that seems to be on the rise as these new sanitizers come in a variety of scents that could prove confusing to young children.

A mother from Easton, Massachusetts, Jennifer Daly has said that in a home with three children, she treats hand sanitizer as a toxin. She keeps the sanitizer bottle on the top shelf of a medicine cabinet along with the other medicine that needs to be kept away from young children. Daly  is the mother of twin 5 year olds as well and an 8 year old child—she is doing what she feels is in their best interest in an effort to keep them safe from the harmful side effects that come along with ingesting hand sanitizer.

According to reports released form the Georgia Poison Center, the number of cases of children under 12 years of age who have suffered harmful side effects as the result of ingesting hand sanitizer has quadrupled from 2010 to 2013. There were 16, 117 cases reported nationwide of children suffering from hand sanitizer poisoning in 2013 as opposed to the 3,600 reported nationwide for 2010. Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, has said that children have a tendency to eat things regardless of how they may smell and taste. Dr. Lopez has stated that this is one of the main causes for alarm in terms of children ingesting hand sanitizer. Nowadays, the sanitizers come in a variety of scents, such a strawberry, grape, and cherry. Some children may not realize the severity of the matter when they ingest such sanitizers, and may become “drunk” as a result of the sanitizer consumption.

Dr. Lopez went on to say that they received a call for two children, aged 5 and 6, who were rushed to the emergency room for suspected sanitizer related poisoning. One of the children had registered a blood alcohol content of .179, which is twice the legal limit for adults. Dr. Lopez indicated that this particular child had consumed “two or three squirts” of strawberry scented sanitizer which is what led to their poisoning. Dr. Lopez went on to say that alcohol poisoning can cause confusion, vomiting, and drowsiness primarily. But if a child were to consume too much of the sanitizer, it could prevent them from breathing properly and could even lead to death.

Massachusetts has also seen an increase in alcohol poisoning caused by hand sanitizer in recent years. Reports from the Department of Public Health indicate that 292 cases were reported in 2014, which is a slight increase to the 287 reported cases in 2013. These cases included poisonings caused by alcohol based and non-alcohol based hand sanitizers alike. A spokesman for the Department of Public Health, Omar Cabrera, has said that the DPH is working toward better prevention methods in an effort to decrease the number of children being poisoned by sanitizer consumption. “In terms of prevention efforts, our providers have again begun reaching out to preschools for education sessions. They will be addressing hand sanitizers when discussing common poisoning agents to teachers.”

Many schools across Massachusetts have stated that while they do have hand sanitizer available at their facilities, they are often located in areas that are monitored by adults. The sanitizers offered in classrooms, bathrooms, and in the hallways are often non-alcohol based sanitizers or foam sanitizers which provide less of an opportunity for children to become sick after consumption. Dr. Gaylord Lopez said that despite these improvements, teachers and parents need to become more aware of the dangers presented by hand sanitizers and learn the best ways to halt a poisoning from taking place. Knowledge of these events is the first step toward prevention. But children also need to be spoken to about the issues these sanitizers may pose if the children were to consume the products. Being proactive is the key in order to prevent further tragedies from taking place.


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