Washing hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds is the best way for children to
kill germs, including
COVID-19. If soap and water are not available, they can use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
However, swallowing just a tiny amount of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in children. Alcohol poisoning in children can cause low blood sugar, seizures, coma and death.
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to keep hand sanitizers out of children's reach. Don't forget about travel-size bottles of sanitizer in purses, diaper bags, backpacks and cars. Parents and caregivers also should supervise children ages 5 and younger when they use hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizer & COVID-19
As families began buying more hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Poison Data System started getting more reports of unintentional exposures in children. In March 2020, there were
79% more calls related to hand sanitizer than the year before. Many calls were about children ages 5 years and younger.
Health experts recommend using hand sanitizer that is 60% to 95% alcohol to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Drinking alcohol typically has 5% to 40% alcohol per serving.
Check the label
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began letting companies that do not normally produce hand sanitizer make and sell it during the COVID-19 pandemic. When buying hand sanitizer, parents should make sure it has a label that lists the ingredients, warnings and precautions.
To reduce the risk of injury from children drinking hand sanitizers, producers should add ingredients to make them taste bitter. This important step helps prevent children from eating the product. However, the FDA has been alerted that some young people have tried drinking hand sanitizers from distilleries that have not taken the step to make them taste bad.
To help make sure the sanitizer's taste will not appeal to children, look for the word “denatured" on the bottle. You can also check for bitter ingredients such as denatonium benzoate (Bitrex); sucrose octaacetate; or butanol (also called tert-butyl alcohol).
Some products may contain isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). Be especially careful with these sanitizers around children, since they can be more toxic than those made with regular alcohol. Avoid products containing methanol, methyl alcohol, or methylated spirits, which can be very dangerous if consumed.
If you think your child may have swallowed hand sanitizer, call your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or visit WebPoisonControl. But,
call 911 right away if your child has collapsed, is having a seizure, is having a hard time breathing, or can't wake up.
Adapted from “Keep hand sanitizer out of children’s reach” by Trisha Korioth, AAP News, June 2020