Chemical in hand sanitizers can injure children’s eyes

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of hand sanitizers has increased. However, when they are used improperly, hand sanitizers can damage the eyes. Ophthalmologists are now treating young patients who got the liquid in their eyes.

The use of hand sanitizer is an important component in preventing infection with the COVID-19 virus, but like everything else in life, it has its drawbacks.

When used improperly, hand sanitizers can damage the eyes. In fact, the French Poison Control Center reported 7 times more cases of ocular exposure among

children to the chemicals in hand sanitizers from April 1 to August 24, 2020, when compared with the same time frame in 2019.

A total of 16 children were admitted to a pediatric ophthalmology hospital in Paris from April to August 2020 compared with 1 boy in 2019. The cause: hand sanitizer that splattered into their eyes.

Of those 16 children (10 boys), 8 of them had a corneal and/or conjunctival ulcer and more than 50% of the corneal surface was affected in 6 children. Two cases required amniotic membrane transplantation.

Many hand sanitizers, the report noted, have a high concentration of ethanol, which can kill corneal cells. The investigators reported their findings in JAMA Ophthalmology.1

The children who were taken to the hospital were all younger than 4 years. The French researchers speculated that the reason for the splattered hand sanitizer was the height at which the hand sanitizer dispensers were positioned, which was 3 feet high, and this is right at the level of the eyes in children this young.

The doctors offered some practical advice to parents that included emphasizing hand washing with soap and water instead of hand sanitizer and training children in the appropriate use of hand sanitizers. They also suggested that hand sanitizers dispensers be separate for children and placed at a lower level than those for adults and that caution signs be placed adjacent to the hand sanitizer dispenser.

The authors concluded that “despite the importance of alcohol-based hand sanitizers for controlling the spread of coronavirus disease 2019, these agents should be used with caution and likely kept away from young children.”

Reference

1. Martin GC, Le Roux, G, Guindolet D, et al. for the French PCC Research Group. Pediatric Eye Injuries by Hydroalcoholic Gel in the Context of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic. JAMA Ophthalmol Published Online: January 21, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.6346