Alcohol Hand Sanitizer Poisoning Risk For Children Highlighted by CDC

Federal health officials have issued a new report that highlights the childhood poisoning risks with alcohol and non-alcohol based hand sanitizers, warning parents and caregivers that misuse or accidental ingestion may result in serious, and potentially life threatening injuries. 

In the latest edition of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers outline the hand sanitizer poisoning risk for children, indicating that there were over 70,000 reports of problems involving children 12 years of age and younger recorded between 2011 and 2014.

The use of hand sanitizer products has become extremely popular, not only in the office, school or hospital settings, but also among parents in the home. Although the use of hand sanitizers has been viewed generally as helpful in preventing germs, many of the alcohol based products contain between 60% to 95% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol by volume, and are often combined with scents that make the liquids appealing to children.

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Researchers from the CDC have raised concerns that the appealing scents of the hand sanitizers can result in children being tempted to put the alcohol-based products in their mouth, which can result in serious injuries that sometimes require hospitalization.

The CDC report notes that from 2011 to 2014, a total of 70,669 hand sanitizer exposures in children aged 12 years or younger were reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS), with more than 65,000 of those adverse exposures resulting from the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, while only just over 5,000 stemmed no non-alcohol based hand sanitizer products.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers were not only associated with the most reported exposures, but were also associated with the worst outcomes and degrees of injury. According to the data, nearly 16,000 alcohol-based hand sanitizer injuries were reported each year, as well as between 1,200 to 1,400 non-alcohol based injuries.

Both alcohol and non-alcohol hand sanitizers resulted in a wide range of injuries including ocular irritation, vomiting, conjunctivitis, oral irritation, cough and abdominal pain. However, rare reports included five incidents of children going into a coma, three seizures, two cases of hypoglycemia, two metabolic diagnoses, and two respiratory depressions. The majority of the rare, severe cases of exposure symptoms were the result of alcohol based sanitizers.

Young children were found to be the most at risk to exposure, with ages five and younger accounting for more than 64,000 of the exposure reports.

However, children ages of six to 12 were most likely to report having intentionally consumed hand sanitizer, and were also the ones who were likely to suffer the most severe health consequences. Researchers suggested that this may be signs that children in this age range are intentionally misusing alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“Caregivers and health care providers need to be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with improper use of hand sanitizer products among children and the need to use proper safety precautions to protect children,” CDC researchers determined. “Increased parental or teacher supervision might be needed while using alcohol hand sanitizer products, especially for older children who might be abusing these products during the school year.”


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