During the pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in exposures to hand sanitizer reported among kids under 6, U.S. poison center data shows.
Last year, there were more than 20,000 exposures to hand sanitizer among children under 6, an increase of 40 percent from 2019, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers that was obtained by The New York Times.
Even though most cases are mild, by storing sanitizer properly and supervising young kids while they use it, parents can avoid the stress of having to call poison control or taking an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.
The uptick in exposures has continued in recent months. In January, for example, there were nearly 34 percent more hand sanitizer exposures reported among children under 6 than there were the year before.
But when it comes to hand sanitizer, something we regularly reach for when we’re outside and slather all over our hands, it’s easy to let your guard down, experts said. Especially because hand sanitizer does not come with a child-resistant closure.
If children ingest enough alcohol-based hand sanitizer, they can get “dangerously drunk,” said Dr. Diane Calello, a pediatric toxicologist and the executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Center.
Hand sanitizer is 60 to 95 percent alcohol, a much stronger concentration than you would find in beer, wine or most hard liquors. A child weighing 20 pounds who drank a tablespoon or two could become intoxicated, Dr. Calello said, and appear “a little drunk.”
“As a dose gets higher they can get very sleepy and have trouble breathing, just as we see with severe adult alcohol intoxication,” she added.
After drinking even a modest amount of alcohol, children are more likely than adults to experience a dangerous drop in blood sugar, which can make them lethargic starting about six to 10 hours after consumption, Dr. Calello said.
Ingesting sanitizer can also irritate the throat or stomach, especially if they are formulated with isopropyl alcohol, which is an ingredient often found in rubbing alcohol, the experts said.
Keep all hand sanitizers out of children’s reach — and also out of sight, even if all you have is a small bottle that you keep tucked away in a handbag or a backpack.
“It’s important for parents to treat it like medications in the household,” Dr. Eggleston said.
If you have children under 6 at home, supervise them while they’re using it, Dr. Arnold said.
“You don’t want the child to pump their own and start to taste it,” he added.
“You can die from drinking methanol — and people do,” Dr. Calello said.
The absorption of methanol in the skin, however, is “pretty minimal,” she added.
If your child swallowed hand sanitizer, don’t try to induce vomiting, the experts said. Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 so that you can get quick guidance on the best course of action.
If your child is unconscious, acting abnormal, is difficult to wake up or has trouble breathing, call 911.
“Fortunately, the milder cases are much more common,” Dr. Calello said. “More likely we’re going to say, ‘Stay home, watch him, I’m going to call you back in an hour or half-hour.’ We keep a lot of people out of hospital that way, by providing them with real-time phone guidance.”
Source: New York Times