Hand sanitizers: Keep your children safe from possible poisoning risk

Woman using alcohol gel for cleaning hands prevention of coronavirus virus outbreak

By The Missouri Poison Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

As the cases of COVID-19 increased in our communities—so did the need for proper hand hygiene. Hand sanitizer is an easy way to clean your hands when the option to wash your hands with warm water and soap are not available.

While hand sanitizer is great for preventing the spread of germs, it also has a high percentage of alcohol as the active ingredient (usually ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, or a combination of both).

Recently, the FDA put out a warning and recalled hand sanitizer products that contain methanol — which is more toxic than ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Methanol can be extremely harmful. If a child or adult drinks the concentrated product, it could cause blindness in small amounts. The CDC also put out a health advisory regarding serious health problems caused by hand sanitizers containing methanol.

The approved alcohol in the hand sanitizer can have the same effects as drinking an alcoholic beverage, but this is not likely in accidental taste ingestions. When applied to the hands, these sanitizers are effective in reducing illness by killing germs.

Bottles of hand sanitizer are frequently scented with attractive fragrances, left out for convenience, and are not usually packaged in child-resistant containers. This makes them very attractive to curious children, leading to accidental tastes and licks of the gel.

The use of hand sanitizer by children should be supervised by an adult. The notion that  children can get drunk from licking their hands after application is false. In a healthy toddler, it would take much more than the dime-sized amount typically used to sanitize hands.  

Abuse of hand sanitizers for the high alcohol content is very different from a curious child licking the gel.

If you know of an adult or teen abusing hand sanitizer,call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions.