Along with pencils and notebooks, hand sanitizer is on many lists of back-to-school supplies. But there is a disturbing new trend in schools—children are drinking hand sanitizer. The problem is consumption of ethanol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning.
According to the Journal of Critical Care Medicine, between 2005 and 2009, 68,712 people called poison control for exposure to hand sanitizer, an increase of about 6% each year.
Though 2010 saw a drop in reports, with only 3266 young children exposed to hand sanitizers, the numbers have been rising drastically since.
A 5-year-old Michigan girl was rushed to the hospital after drinking an entire bottle of hand sanitizer at school. According to the Daily Mail, the young girl had tried all of the different “flavors” of hand sanitizers and said the “strawberry chocolate” was her favorite. The young girl recovered, but doctors says if she hadn’t sought out medical attention, she would have died from alcohol poisoning.
Hand sanitizers are either alcohol based (containing ethyl or isopropyl alcohol), or non-alcohol based (containing benzalkonium chloride).
Liquid hand sanitizer is 62 to 65 percent ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, the main ingredient in beer, wine and spirits, making it 120-proof. To compare, a bottle of vodka is 80-proof, beer contains about 5 percent alcohol, and wine is about 12 percent alcohol.
That means ingesting just a small amount of hand sanitizer could put a child at risk. A New York poison control center warns that swallowing as little as an ounce or two could be fatal to a small child. And officials in Texas point out, “The same thing can occur if mouthwash or perfume is swallowed.”
Poison control experts recommend that hand sanitizer be stored safely, out of children’s reach, and used only with adult supervision. Teachers should also remain vigilant for abuse.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, inability to wake up, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, and low body temperature or a bluish skin color, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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