Hand sanitizers: risk of poisoning for children


Q: My family used a lot of hand sanitizer during the pandemic. Is there something harmful in it?

A: Washing your hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds is the best way for children to get rid of germs, including Covid-19. If soap and water are not available, children can use hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.

However, swallowing hand sanitizer can cause poisoning in children, so be careful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to keep hand sanitizers out of the reach of children. Don’t forget travel-size bottles in handbags, diaper bags, backpacks and cars.

Parents and caregivers should also supervise children five and under when using hand sanitizer, many of which are made with alcohol or rubbing alcohol (ethanol, ethyl or isopropanol alcohol, alcohol isopropyl).

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include loss of balance, drowsiness, hypoglycemia, seizures and coma, and it can be fatal.

Children and adults have also been poisoned after using hand sanitizers containing methanol (also called wood alcohol, methyl alcohol or denatured alcohol).

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued recalls of products containing methanol, which is toxic if swallowed or after repeated use on the skin.

It can cause problems ranging from nausea and headaches to blindness, nervous system damage, or death.

An FDA import alert also warns of products containing methanol and / or 1-propanol, another form of alcohol that should not be used in hand sanitizers.

As families buy more hand sanitizers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Poison Data System is seeing an increase in reports of exposures in children.

Health experts recommend using hand sanitizers containing 60% to 95% alcohol to kill the virus that causes Covid-19.

Alcohol consumption generally contains 5 to 40% alcohol.

The FDA has started letting companies that don’t normally produce hand sanitizers make and sell them during the pandemic.

Before purchasing or using any hand sanitizer, make sure it has a label listing the ingredients, warnings, and precautions.

To reduce the risk of injury from children who drink hand sanitizers, manufacturers must add ingredients to make them taste bitter.

This important step helps prevent children from eating the product.

However, the FDA has been alerted that some young people have tried drinking hand sanitizers from distilleries that have failed to make them taste bad.

You can look for bitter ingredients such as denatonium benzoate (Bitrex); sucrose octaacetate; or butanol (also called tert-butyl alcohol).

Today’s denatured hand sanitizers taste bitter, but you should get rid of all the old bottles of “denatured alcohol,” which may contain toxic methanol.

Be especially careful with isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) hand sanitizers around children. These can be more toxic than those made with ethanol or ethyl alcohol.

Do-it-yourself hand sanitizer recipes, which are widely available on the internet, may not be the best option for families.

The FDA warns that if manufactured incorrectly, hand sanitizers may not work.

Skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer have also been reported.

Call the ambulance right away if your child has collapsed, has a seizure, has difficulty breathing, or cannot wake up after using or swallowing hand sanitizers.

If you are concerned about the risk of poisoning in your child, talk to your pediatrician. – TNS

Dr. Kevin C. Osterhoudt is the Medical Director of the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, USA.


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