Kids Eating Hand Sanitizer; Parents Be Aware of Concerning Trend

By Erik Lief — Mar 03, 2017
New data from the Centers for Disease Control show that between 2011 and 2014 more than 70,000 U.S. children under age 12 ingested this often-colorful and pleasant-smelling gel. Of those cases, 91 percent involved kids under the age of 5. And because of the alcohol content, some consumed the sanitizer on purpose.
Kids and their fascination with hand sanitizer (photo courtesy: Shutterstock)

Scores of cleaning products are marketed to adults as both sweet smelling and colorful. Yet while they're attractive to us, youngsters and even toddlers can find them irresistible – and that can produce unexpected medical emergencies.

If you recall this took place with laundry pods, starting a few years ago when they were first introduced, and now a similar problem is occurring with hand sanitizer. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released yesterday, show that during a recent four-year span more than 70,000 children under age 12 in the United States ingested this often-colorful and pleasant-smelling gel.

Of those cases, 91 percent involved kids under the age of 5.

To put that figure in perspective, from 2012 to 2013 according to the U.S. National Poison Data System, approximately 17,000 children under the age of 6 were sickened by the laundry pods (or injured, by squeezing the detergent pack and having the contents squirt into their eyes) – as we alerted parents to this problem back in November 2014. And data from 2014, provided by the American Association of Poison Control Centers – which we wrote about in May 2015 – showed that 11,700 incidents were reported for that year alone, representing a 20 percent increase from 2013.

Compiling those figures on detergent pods (an example of which is pictured here) gives us nearly 29,000 cases in three years. Yet that's less than half of the 70,669 reports of kids ingesting hand sanitizer in the four years spanning 2011 and 2014, which the CDC is alerting us to now.

And then there was this, which should give parents of slightly older kids, pause.

"Children aged 6–12 years had more intentional exposures ... suggesting that older children might be deliberately misusing or abusing alcohol hand sanitizers," according the report, authored by Dr. Cynthia Santos and her team at the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health. "Older children also reported more symptoms and had worse outcomes than did younger children. Major (life-threatening) outcomes were rare. Seasonal trends in data might correlate with increased use during the school year or flu season."

Several sanitizers on the market contain between 60 and 90 percent ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. And 92 percent of the 70,000+ incidents involved sanitizers containing alcohol.

The most common adverse health reactions from ingesting the cleaning product were, in descending order: eye irritation, vomiting, conjunctivitis and oral irritation. And while no deaths were reported, there were five cases of kids lapsing into comas, and three who experienced seizures.

Given this news, it appears that for homes with young children steps should be taken to store hand sanitizer away when not in use. And as a reminder, the CDC reiterates that using the product isn't a necessity since "[h]and washing with plain soap and water is safe and effective and does not carry these associated risks."