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Avoiding Hand Sanitizer Ingestion in Children

Patrick Boshell
May 23, 2017


Those who live with or work with young children are discussing a disturbing new trend of hand sanitizer consumption. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report  demonstrates that in many cases children are intentionally consuming hand sanitizers. In fact, 95% of the 70,669 hand sanitizer exposure cases reported to poison control centers between 2011 and 2014 were due to intentional ingestion of these products.


This report also revealed that "young children, including infants, are more likely to develop complications from alcohol intoxication than are older children and teens," and that the majority of the exposures were reported during the school year. It is thought that this pattern may be associated with a greater accessibility of sanitizer in schools and during the flu season.


While hand sanitizers are effective in reducing microorganisms on the skin, and protecting us from illness, the improper use can be associated with adolescent health risks such as vomiting, oral irritation and hypoglycemia. An increased awareness of the potential dangers of alcohol hand sanitizer consumption, greater emphasis on proper usage, and strategic placement and availability, are ways to combat this frightening trend.


Here are some of our suggestions for reducing the misuse of hand sanitizer:


  1. Teach the proper use of hand sanitizers to children.
  2. Limit the availability of hand sanitizers when children are not within adult supervision, and store loose sanitizer out of reach.
  3. Use fragrance free, or low fragrance, sanitizers to reduce desirability.
  4. Keep hand sanitizers that are scented of food and baked goods out of reach of children.
  5. Transition over to foam sanitizer to reduce drinkability and volume dispensed.
  6. Use only lockable sanitizer dispensers in schools and youth centers.
  7. Switch all mobile dispensers, such as those on desks and counters, to locking and securable point of care dispensers.
  8. Wash instead of sanitize! Hand washing with soap and water is the recommended method of hand hygiene in non–healthcare settings.


If you see any child, exhibit clinical signs and symptoms consistent with alcohol toxicity, such as nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression, and drowsiness, consider the possibility of an alcohol hand sanitizer ingestion, seek medical attention, and contact your local poison control center.


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