Hand sanitizer may not only be unhelpful but could actually be harmful to your little one - and the reason just may shock you.
According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. children under the age of 12 are at a risk for poisoning from swallowing or inhaling hand sanitizer products, which contain ethanol or other alcohols.
And while you may think your child would NEVER drink sanitizer, think again, experts say: though younger children were at higher risk, kids up to age 11 were reported to have received poison control care due to this issue.
A surprising number of side effects were registered by the organization during a three-year period for sufferers, including:
* alcohol poisoning (due to direct ingestion/swallowing)
* eye irritation
* sleep apnea
* acidosis (which can lead to nervous system and respiratory problems)
* nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting
* coma (in extreme cases)
Reported cases of toxic exposure to hand sanitizers in children increased in the younger categories of children. Ingestion (swallowing), whether accidentally or intentionally, accounted for the overwhelming percentage of reports (greater than 95%).
According to researchers, hypoglycemia - a condition of low blood glucose found more frequently in young children due to the child's inability to hold a larger store of glucose at a time - is a factor: children easily become glucose-depleted, making alcohol work quickly and dramatically on the body and potentially causing harm.
Children included in the study had at least one major symptom, while a number of reported participants experienced more than one symptom.
So what's the answer? Hand sanitizers have come into scrutiny in the past due to fears that over-"cleaning" children and adults may reduce our ability to fight off certain bacteria simply due to not being exposed to those bacteria. At the same time, beneficial microbes are routinely depleted by most first-world adults and children due to not being near farms, over-bathing, and over-washing of food.
On the other hand, when flu season hits, the desire is strong to protect kids in any way we can. (The flu and other illnesses come with hazards of their own and in extreme cases, particularly dehydration or high fever, may result in a hospital stay.)
No one can make the decision for a parent whether or not his/her child should use hand sanitizer, and whether hand sanitizer should be kept around the house. The following rules may help if you do decide to use hand sanitizer:
1. Use smaller bottles. They're more expensive when purchased that way, but in the event that a very young child should get her hands on the bottle, there's the potential for less of a quantity to be ingested.
2. DON'T use flavored/fragranced hand sanitizers. The smell of these is very appealing to young children.
3. Teach children from a very young age that hand sanitizer is a medicine. (This is the easiest way for a child to envision the difference between an food and non-food health item.) Tell your child that just as taking too much medicine or taking the wrong medicine could harm her, so can using hand sanitizer incorrectly or putting it into her mouth.
4. Tell your child NEVER to put hand sanitizer near her face. Just saying "mouth" and "eyes" may not do the trick as children touch their faces constantly, and then their hands inevitably wind up in their mouths at some point.
5. Teach your child that she must NEVER give a younger sibling hand sanitizer to wash up with. Just like medicine, that is Mom's, Dad's or a trusted teacher or health care professional's job.
6. Wash, and wash well. The best way to thwart disease is not to kill what's on the hands but to wash it away. Washing well means water will hit every crevice and even in the small shelf beneath the fingernails. And your child is less likely to want to eat a bar of soap than to lick a bottle of beautifully colored, fruit-scented hand sanitizer.
Image 1: lifescience.com
Image 2: huffingtonpost.com