As cold season rolls forward, hand sanitizer is one of many methods families will use to fight the spread of germs. Still, families with children should be wary of the risks of keeping hand sanitizer within reach of small hands. Those fruit-infused mixes sure do smell delicious, and it’s a safe bet that your toddler thinks so too. According to data collected over the past few years, small children under the age of 5 are the most likely to go bottoms up on such products, and as a result they’re getting drunk and sometimes ending up in the hospital.
That’s right, the same chemical that’s so effective at killing germs on your hands is exactly the same chemical that gets you drunk when you drink booze: ethyl alcohol. Hand sanitizer is anywhere from 70 to 95 percent alcohol, which outpaces beer (5-7 percent), wine (10-15 percent), and vodka (40 percent), and is on par with the potency of high-proof rums such as Bacardi 151 (75 percent). Hand sanitizers can be made without ethyl alcohol, though the alternatives carry a higher poison risk, and on top of that they’ll still get anyone who drinks them drunk.
This year to date, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) has reported nearly 15,000 cases involving hand sanitizer. These designated exposure cases have involved ingestion, inhalation, or exposure to the eyes or some other form of undesirable contact, though not all result in poisonings or overdoses.
The AAPCC has been tracking cases related to ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer since 2010. Since 2011, cases have hovered in the range of 18,000, with children under the age of 5 being the vast majority of cases—around 14,000 each year.
The problem comes from small children exploring these products, and either intentionally or unintentionally ingesting some amount. While a simple lick isn’t a cause for worry, an ounce of hand sanitizer will produce just about the same effect as a shot of high-proof liquor, though in a child this effect will be far more pronounced because of their smaller size and temperance.
While hand sanitizer isn’t the only medicine-cabinet toiletry that will get you drunk (see here about a homeopathic laxative), they’re far more tempting to consume since they’re subject to the same fragrance infusions as lotions and candles. If fruity Japanese Cherry Blossom or Fresh Strawberries doesn’t make your mouth water, perhaps you might be more tempted by Vanilla Bean Noel, or Winter Candy Apple. If you aren’t tempted, your toddler almost certainly is.
It can happen just in the time it takes to step out of the room. A child happens upon a pleasant-smelling liquid, drinks a bit, and by the time the parent gets back she’s already drunk. A drunk child looks just about what you’d expect: sleepy, stumbling, and slurring their words. To make sure this doesn’t happen, keep hand sanitizer within reach of adult hands only.