Hand sanitisers hurting more children's eyes, some severely: Study

Hand hygiene is an important way to prevent the spread of COVID19 and, when soap and water isn’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitiser is the next best way to do this.

Dispensers of hand sanitiser have popped up in malls, schools, workplaces and on public transportation to make it easier for people to disinfect their hands. However, one consequence, documented in France, has been chemical injuries in children who have accidentally gotten sanitiser in their eyes.

Hand sanitiser dispensers in public places expose young kids to increased risk of eye exposure to hazardous chemicals, a new study said.

There were seven times more cases among children of eye exposure to hazardous chemicals in hand sanitiser between April 1 and August 24, 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data from the French Poison Control Center.

Similarly, in the same period, 16 children were admitted to a pediatric ophthalmology hospital in Paris because their eyes were spattered with hand sanitiser compared with only one boy in 2019. Two severe cases required surgery to transplant tissue into their corneas. The fashion industry generates 92 million tons of waste yearly. How can it be solved?

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The hospital cases were all in children under the age of 4, and the French researchers said the reason for this was likely because gel dispensers are usually at 1 meter (3 feet) in height. While this is waist level for most adults, it’s eye level for young children.

“With the current widespread use of hand sanitiser in public places, it is not unexpected that young children would be drawn to these dispensers, many of which appear to be inadvertently designed to facilitate contact between the hand sanitiser and young eyes,” said Dr. Kathryn Colby from the Grossman School of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology at New York University in a commentary that accompanied the research. The study was published in the journal JAMA Opthamology on Thursday.

Hand sanitiser accounted for just 1.3 percent of all chemical eye exposure incidents in children in 2019, according to the French database.

That number was 9.9 percent in 2020, and it said that most cases were mild.

The biggest risk to kids, the research also suggested, could come from dispensers installed in public places. In 2020, 63 cases of exposure occurred in a public place, while none was reported in 2019.

Many hand sanitisers have a high concentration of ethanol, which can kill cells in the cornea.

In a related study published in the same journal, physicians in India detailed the cases of two children that accidentally squirted hand sanitiser in the eye, with serious consequences. The 4-year-old complained that she couldn’t stand to look at light, while the 5-year-old had damage to his eyelid. Both children made full recoveries after treatment with saline washes and eye drops, but their doctors said it’s necessary to consider the potential hazards of hand sanitisers in public places and schools.

Colby said that parents also need to make sure their child’s eyes are quickly examined by a medical professionals if they are exposed to alcohol sanitiser, with early diagnosis and treatment likely to reduce the long-term consequences of chemical  injuries to the eyes.