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Dear children: please stop eating hand sanitizer

Kids are known for eating all sorts of gross things — from pet food to poop. And that’s normal — it’s their way of exploring and learning about the world. But sometimes, what they put in their mouth can be dangerous: for example, hand sanitizer.

There were over 70,000 cases of children who were exposed to hand sanitizer from 2011 to 2014, and most of them ate it, according to a new study by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most kids, especially those below the age of 6, did so by mistake, but some children ages 6 to 12 actually ate the alcohol-based sanitizers on purpose — possibly to get drunk.

Please make sure your kids don’t do this; it’s dangerous. The CDC found that ingesting hand sanitizer caused vomiting, coughing, and stomachaches — and even comas and seizures in some rare cases. The findings are coming out tomorrow in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Hand sanitizers are a cheap and easy way to kill some germs on your skin, but studies have shown that they can be dangerous if they’re not used properly — especially among children. For this study, the CDC analyzed data collected by the National Poison Data System in all states from 2011 to 2014. They looked at 70,669 cases of children below 12 who became exposed to hand sanitizers either through their eyes, skin, nose, or mouth.

Some good news: nobody died. But plenty of kids who were exposed to hand sanitizer had a bad time — with health effects ranging from eye and mouth irritation, coughing, and eye infection, to vomiting and stomach pain. And in some rare cases it was very bad: five children went into a coma, three had seizures, two had low blood sugar levels, two had increased levels of acid in their blood, and two had breathing problems.

These bad health effects were more likely when the kids ate alcohol-based sanitizers. And some kids, especially the older ones, did that intentionally. That suggests “that older children might be deliberately misusing or abusing alcohol hand sanitizers,” the study says.

The study has some limitations: cases of hand sanitizer poisoning might go underreported, and the researchers in this study didn’t include in their count cases in which children got sick because of hand sanitizer and some other substance. Poison center data is also subject to bias, because it relies on people to accurately recall information about what got them sick, when, and how (and we’re not very good with that).

The CDC recommends to wash your hands with water and soap whenever possible. (Hand sanitizers don’t kill all germs, plus they can cause the germs to become resistant.) But if you’re letting your kid use hand sanitizer or have some lying around the house, be extra careful. Just in case you didn’t have enough things to worry about.


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