Sep 28, 2015

Dr. Gellner: Hand sanitizers are poisoning more kids, but how? I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner and I will explain on today's edition of The Scope.

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Dr. Gellner: Poison control centers are warning parents and school officials about a troubling trend: small children becoming drunk after drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Kids as young as five or six are showing up in emergency rooms stumbling, slurring their words, and falling down. When the doctors ask about the possibility that the kids have gotten into anything poisonous, they learn that the kids are eating hand sanitizer. Ew. A lot of sanitizers can be made to smell good, like strawberries or other fruit, and little kids, being the curious explorers they are, often taste things that smell yummy. In these cases, though, the kids wind up with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit for an adult.

This seems to be part of a trend that we are only just now recognizing. In 2010, the US Poison Control Centers got more than 3600 calls about kids under the age of 12 eating hand sanitizer. By 2013 that number had jumped to over 16,000 calls. That's a 400% increase.

Hand sanitizers come in brightly colored bottles. They can be laced with glitter, and they can smell like bubble gum, lemonade, vanilla, and the packaging makes them very enticing to young children. The trouble with these products is that they can be 40% to 95% alcohol. Drinking even just a little bit can make kids drunk. It's like drinking a shot or two of hard liquor, and I don't know of any parent who would give their kids that.

Some hand sanitizers are twice as strong as vodka. Because of their small size, kids are more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning than adults are. They may stagger, seem sleepy, or vomit. Their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing may slow down. Alcohol can also cause a child's blood sugar to drop rapidly, leading to seizures and even put them in a coma.

Hand sanitizers are often included in the list of school supplies parents should send to school. I know I've sent my kids to school with them, but we often don't realize how much alcohol is really in them. We just want our kids to avoid germs. Parents and teachers should be aware of this. Hand sanitizers should be kept out of reach and kids should only be allowed to use them with adult supervision.

These products do have a role in decreasing germs, but they need to be used wisely. Washing hands works, too, don't forget. And if you're going to send hand sanitizer to school, consider sending your child with hand wipes instead. Those usually don't get eaten.

If you think your child has eaten hand sanitizer, call your local poison control center right away at 1-800-222-1222. That's a national hotline. If your child shows any signs of intoxication, take them to the closest children's hospital for age appropriate treatment. Remember, kids are not little adults and need to be treated as kids when it comes to emergencies.

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