Having hand sanitizer readily available is on everyone’s minds now. It’s in everyone’s homes, cars, businesses, and work. While it’s a life saving necessity for many it’s also poison for others. Hand sanitizer is one of the fastest growing causes of calls to poison control centers across the country. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have been 3,260 cases about hand sanitizer in children 12 years and younger. With an ethyl alcohol content of between 40 and 95 percent, hand sanitizer is 120 proof. Just two or three squirts of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in a child. Ingestion of an ounce or two by a small child can be fatal. Poison control centers have begun sending warnings to schools about the dangers of having had sanitizer within easy reach of small children. The brightly colored bottles and variety of smells and flavors make it particularly appealing to small children.
Teens and some adults are also drinking the sanitizer in order to get drunk. “This is a rapidly emerging trend,” Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicology consultant for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. While emergency room visits used to be mainly small children who had accidentally consumed the sanitizer, more visits now are those who have deliberately used it to get drunk. After cough syrup, hand sanitizer is the next up and coming household item teens are using to get a buzz. With one squirt having the alcohol equivalent of a shot of hard liquor, it’s stronger than vodka. It’s cheap and readily available everywhere. Videos are circulating on YouTube teaching teens how to distill it or mix it with salt to break up the alcohol from the rest of the ingredients. With a buzz similar to drinking grain alcohol, it’s possible to die from drinking sanitizer. Isopropyl alcohol in hand sanitizer is toxic and can damage the nervous system and internal organs. Side effects can include blindness, brain and kidney damage, and liver failure. Ethyl alcohol based sanitizers usually contain denatured alcohol. This means it’s been altered to make it undrinkable. Denaturing agents vary, and some are toxic.
The bottom line is don’t drink sanitizer. Seems obvious, but emergency room doctor’s know it happens. They recommend that hand sanitizers be kept out of reach of children at all times, and that they be used only under adult supervision. More is not necessarily better. A dime sized dollop applied to dry hands should be enough. Sanitizers are not as good at cleaning hands as soap and water, so wash your hands whenever possible. Use sanitizing wipes instead of hand sanitizer if available, and store all sanitizing products where children can’t reach them.