Door knobs. Stair rails. Elevator buttons. Just the thought of touching any of those during cold and flu season may send you running for the nearest bottle of hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is a convenient way to keep your hands clean and germ-free, but parents should be aware of the potential harm it can cause.
“There are times when you don’t have access to good old-fashioned soap and water to wash your hands,” said Ann Slattery, managing director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama. “Using hand sanitizer is an easy way to stay healthy when you’re on the go, but it’s not without its own inherent danger because it contains alcohol.”
Hand sanitizers contain 40 to 95 percent alcohol, and many formulas contain a stronger alcohol concentration than most hard liquors. Just 1 ounce of hand sanitizer – most are greater than 60 percent – has the same alcohol content as a 12 ounce can of beer. Therefore, accidental ingestion or intentional misuse of hand sanitizer is cause for concern.
“From a young child’s perspective, hand sanitizer may smell good, and it’s usually in brightly colored, glittery bottles,” Slattery said. “With older children, there are reports of them daring others to drink it.”
The number of reported cases of hand sanitizer exposure in Alabama has grown since 2011. That year, there were 159 calls to the Regional Poison Control Center involving hand sanitizer. Through October 2015, Slattery said there have been about 300 calls involving hand sanitizer, already surpassing the total 269 calls involving hand sanitizer in all of 2014. Nationally, there were nearly 15,000 reported exposure cases through August 2015.
To prevent potentially harmful exposure to hand sanitizer:
- Keep hand sanitizer well out of reach of children at all times.
- Children should use hand sanitizer only with adult supervision.
- Apply a dime-sized amount of sanitizer to dry hands, and rub together until completely dry.
If you suspect your child may have ingested any amount of hand sanitizer, Slattery encourages parents to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. The signs won’t always be as obvious as an empty bottle lying around. “When in doubt, check it out,” she said.
Some potential symptoms of harmful exposure to hand sanitizer include:
Some delayed symptoms could include a drop in blood sugar and a drop in body temperature.
The Regional Poison Control Center’s hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Established in 1958, The Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama more than 50,000 poison calls annually, plus more than 60,000 follow-up calls. For more information, visit https://www.childrensal.org/rpcc.