The CDC Says You Must Keep Hand Sanitizer Away From Kids Under This Age

Have it on hand, but out of reach of young children—especially if they are unsupervised.

The importance of diligently practicing healthy hand hygiene habits during the coronavirus pandemic is nothing we haven't heard before. After all, in the months since COVID-19 first swept into our lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently touted hand washing as "one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick." And when the old-fashioned soap and water method isn't available, the CDC endorses alcohol-based hand sanitizer as an effective back up option. However, a few hand sanitizer safety precautions are required—especially when it comes to young children.

According to the CDC, hand sanitizer should only be given to children to use when it is either directly applied to their hands by a parent or guardian or under closely monitored adult supervision. And in situations involving children under the age of 6, those highly recommended safety precautions become of even greater importance. Why is that the case? Ethyl alcohol, a common ingredient in most hand sanitizers, can be toxic if swallowed—something that young children are prone to do if they get their hands on a bottle while unsupervised. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, U.S. poison control centers received almost 85,000 calls regarding hand sanitizer ingestion by young children, according to data from the Georgia Poison Center.

The CDC conducted a study of its own to understand the health risks of ingesting both alcohol and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer, as well as to figure out how often young children ingested it. The 2017 study, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that between 2011 and 2014, 70,669 exposures to hand sanitizers in children ages 12 and under were reported to the National Poison Data System. About 90 percent of those incidents occurred among kids 5 years of age and younger.

The most common adverse health effects the CDC found in ingesting either kind of hand sanitizer were ocular irritation and vomiting (though they were more severe with the alcohol-based version). These findings, among the study's many others, saw the CDC further stressing the importance of hand sanitizer safety when dealing with children under 6.

"Caregivers and health care providers need to be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with improper use of hand sanitizer products among children and the need to use proper safety precautions to protect children," the study authors wrote in their conclusion. That means keeping it out of reach at all times and only allowing your children to use it while under your supervision, especially if they're under 6 years old. And for more tips on hand hygiene, check out The No. 1 Thing You Should Never Do With Your Hand Sanitizer.

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