Toddlers getting drunk off hand sanitizers is disturbing trend

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s a disturbing trend affecting toddlers.

“They could be sleepy, stumbling, or slurring their words. Kind of what you’d imagine a drunk child would look like,” said Dr. Jonathan Fischer at the Duke Family Medicine Center. “Kids are getting into these forms of alcohol and not really knowing that they’re putting themselves in danger.”

That alcohol is hand sanitizer. It’s an incredibly convenient way to fight germs, especially for curious kids who love to touch everything.

The problem is some kids are too curious.

“Children, particularly little children, are investigating these things and ingesting small amounts and sometimes unfortunately ingesting large amounts,” Fischer said.

The proof comes from poison control centers across the country. Since 2010, the number of calls related to young children ingesting hand sanitizers skyrocketed nearly 400 percent, according to research done by the Georgia Poison Center.

So far this year, nearly 15,000 cases have been reported, with more than 500 being right here in North Carolina, according to data from Carolinas Poison Center and the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“It could be on the order of minutes – your child slips away, is in the bathroom and few minutes later you’re not hearing much from them and next thing you know they’re not looking quite right,” Fischer said.

“It’s alarming. I don’t know how kids would just get ahold of it,” said Tiffany Smith, manager at Right Time Kids in Raleigh. The day care uses hand sanitizer under adult supervision.

“We leave the sanitizer up high so the kids can’t grab it and then we dispense it into their hands,” said Smith.

It’s an important technique, especially since statistics show kids under the age of 5 are ingesting the most, not the teens you see doing it on the internet.

At its core, sanitizer is just a really strong form of alcohol. For example, a typical beer might be anywhere from 5-7 percent alcohol. Wine is usually about 10-15 percent alcohol. Vodka hovers around 40 percent alcohol. A typical hand sanitizer is can be anywhere from 70-95 percent alcohol.

“If a child licked their hands, probably they would not experience toxic level,” said Fischer, “But when you talk about four to five pumps of that stuff, then you start getting into a dangerous level.”

How dangerous?

“At its worst, alcohol poisoning can lead to death. Short of that children can lapse into comas, they could also have seizures,” Fischer said.

If you look at packaging you’ll quickly see why it could be appealing. Many sanitizers come in fun carrying cases, colors, and sweet scents that smell like food. Strawberry, Cranberry Sauce, Marshmallow Pumpkin Latte, Black Cherry and Vanilla were just a few that WNCN found.

There’s no doubt hand sanitizers are great for killing whatever germs your little one may come in contact with as long as it ends up on their hands, not in their mouth.

“It’s a message that’s being put out to kids that these are inviting things you want to use which on one hand, we do, however we just need to know there’s a safety risk and they should be used as they’re supposed to be used,” Fisher said.

Tips to prevent potentially harmful exposure to hand sanitizer:
•Hand sanitizers should be kept well out of reach of children at all times, and used only with adult supervision.
•When using hand sanitizer on yourself or others, apply a dime-sized amount to dry hands and rub hands together until completely dry.
•If you suspect your child has ingested hand sanitizer, call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.

For more information from the AAPCC, click here

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