Increase in Alcohol Poisoning Cases from Hand Sanitizer

September 15, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Kan.— With cold and flu season just around the corner, hand sanitizer is everywhere. It might not seem like a big deal, but poison control centers across the country are seeing an increase in calls involving children under the age of 12 ingesting hand sanitizer. So far in 2015, The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center, which serves the entire state of Kansas, has handled 153 such calls.

"Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there are a percentage of them going to the emergency room," said Tama Sawyer, director of the poison center. The amount of alcohol in hand sanitizer ranges from 45% to 95%. Ingesting even small amounts – as little as two or three squirts in some cases – can cause alcohol poisoning. By comparison, wine and beer contain about 12% and 5% alcohol respectively, she said.

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex, which prevents choking. Excessive use of alcohol over a short period of time can stop these functions.

Signs of alcohol poisoning

The most common signs of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Coma or not being able to wake up
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color and paleness
  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing

If you suspect your child has ingested hand sanitizer, or is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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