Kids Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer helps protect you against nasty germs. It’s all over the place — in the office, in your bathroom, even in your car or purse. While most people use hand sanitizer to keep themselves healthy, most parents don’t realize how dangerous it can be in the wrong hands.

For young children, just swallowing two to three squirts of hand sanitizer can have serious side effects. It can make people, especially children and teens, extremely drunk and give them alcohol poisoning.

“It’s the ethanol content that’s in the hand sanitizers,” said Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center at Norton Children’s Hospital and a board-certified clinical toxicologist. “So, if you think about something like vodka, which has 40 percent alcohol, hand sanitizers can have upwards of 95 percent.”

Dr. Webb said the poison control center gets about 100 calls each year regarding hand sanitizer. Cases in which children under age 6 swallow hand sanitizer are usually accidental, however, cases involving children ages 7 to 18 are often caused by abuse of the product.

“Children commonly associate hand sanitizer as being safe, since from an early age, they’re taught that it helps keep them healthy,” Dr. Webb said. “They don’t understand the potential danger of drinking it.”

Dr. Webb said if you have older children in the home and seem to be going through an unusually large amount of hand sanitizer, that could be a red flag and you should ask questions. For young children, scented hand sanitizers can be appealing. With scents like strawberry, grape and orange, children often mistake them for candy.

If you suspect your child is consuming hand sanitizer, call the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 for advice, assessment and recommendations. Most cases can be managed at home. If your child is unconscious, not breathing or having a seizure, call 911.

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