Hand sanitzers: Friend or foe?A new fad is sweeping the nation to help people – especially kids – stay healthy throughout the flu season.
By: By Crystal Hoepner, Public health, Alexandria Echo Press
A new fad is sweeping the nation to help people – especially kids – stay healthy throughout the flu season.
As a quick and convenient method for preventing the spread of germs, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are suddenly everywhere. It is so popular that President Obama, along with Sesame Street’s Elmo, have encouraged its use.
There are dispensers in grocery stores, clinics and school classrooms, giant bottles at church services, and tiny ones carried in purses, briefcases and backpacks. Many people are using the germ-killing gel, foam, wipes and spray, but there is a huge debate on how safe hand sanitizers are for kids.
If you do an Internet search on the safety of sanitizers for kids, you find a multitude of mixed headlines. Search results range from “hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning” to “add it to your child’s school backpack.”
According to the Minnesota Poison Control, the concern is related to the amount of alcohol contained in sanitizers, which can range from 60 to 65 percent, depending on the product. This is equivalent to a 120 to 130 proof alcoholic beverage.
While there hasn't been a single documented case of a child dying from alcohol poisoning from ingesting hand sanitizer, the thought of it for parents seems pretty frightening.
The Poison Control Center does confirm that a child could become intoxicated by ingesting hand sanitizer. As an example, it would take a 2-year-old weighing 25 pounds approximately two teaspoons or 10 to 20 pumps of an average container to become intoxicated (dizzy, slurred speech, unsteady gait).
Typically, children will not drink enough from a container to produce intoxicating symptoms, primarily due to its bad taste and the burning sensation it can cause in the mouth.
The Minnesota Poison Control Center receives a large number of calls regarding ingestion of hand sanitizers by children each year. These cases typically result in no symptoms to at most nausea, vomiting or irritation in the mouth.
Children who do “taste” or get a “lick” of hand sanitizer experience only mild symptoms, if any. If this occurs, parents can safely manage their care at home with the assistance of the Poison Center.
However, there are children who will drink anything, no matter how bad it tastes, and in those cases alcohol poisoning can result. Like all potentially poisonous items, sanitizers should be stored out of the reach of children and used according to the label.
Adults should monitor use of hand sanitizer by children to ensure that the proper amount is used and that hands wet with sanitizer are not put in the mouth. Also, avoid buying large containers of sanitizer. If a child only has access to a small bottle they are less likely to ingest enough to result in harm.
The bottom line is hand sanitizers are beneficial for killing germs on hands and preventing the spread of the flu. If ingestion does occur, contact the Minnesota Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.