Can a prescooler get drunk and even die from drinking hand sanitizer? The short answer is … yes, they can. The following e-mail describes swallowing a squirt of hand sanitizer was enough to make a four-year-old loopy and while it gets some of the specifics wrong — namely that the child couldn’t have had an 85% blood alcohol level, since .10% is enough to kill you, and she probably had a lot more than one quirt — the general warning is valid. Most hand sanitizer contains a large percentage ethyl alcohol, which can be intoxicating and even deadly if swallowed.
Ok. I don’t know where to begin because the last 2 days of my life have
been such a blur. Yesterday, My youngest daughter Halle who is 4, was
rushed to the emergency room by her father for being severely lethargic and
incoherent. He was called to her school by the school secretary
for being “very VERY sick.” He told me that when he arrived that Halle was
barely sitting in the chair. She couldn’t hold her own head up and when
he looked into her eyes, she couldn’t focus them.
He immediately called me after he scooped her up and rushed her to the ER.
When we got there, they ran blood test after blood test and did x- rays,
every test imaginable. Her white blood cell count was normal, nothing was
out of the ordinary. The ER doctor told us that he had done everything
that he could do so he was sending her to Saint Francis for further test.
Right when we were leaving in the ambulance, her teacher had come to the ER
and after questioning Halle’s classmates, we found out that she had licked
hand sanitizer off her hand. Hand sanitizer, of all things. But it makes
sense. These days they have all kinds of different scents and when you have a curious child, they are going to put all kinds of things in their mouths.
When we arrived at Saint Francis, we told the ER doctor there to check
her blood alcohol level, which, yes we did get weird looks from it but
they did it. The results were her blood alcohol level was 85% and this was
6 hours after we first took her. There’s no telling what it would have
been if we would have tested it at the first ER.
Since then, her school and a few surrounding schools have taken this out
of the classrooms of all the lower grade classes but what’s to stop middle
and high schoolers too? After doing research off the internet, we have
found out that it only takes 3 squirts of the stuff to be fatal in a toddler. For her blood alcohol level to be so high was to compare someone her size to drinking something 120 proof. So please PLEASE don’t disregard this because I don’t ever want anyone to go thru what my family and I have gone thru. Today was a little better but not much. Please send this to everyone you know that has children or are having children. It doesn’t matter what age. I just want people to know the dangers of this.
Lacey Butler and family
For a good overview of the dangers of hand sanitizer, and more on the background on the two cases that spawned this an a similar (more accurate) e-mail, read Snopes.com’s debunking “Booze Ooze”.
From reading the Snopes article, it seems likely that kids would need to drink an ounce or more of hand sanitizer in order to get sick, but it’s best if they don’t drink any. As the labels on such sanitizers plainly state, they should be kept out of the reach of children because they are made from alcohol.
Here are some additional articles on this issue:
- About.com: Hand Sanitizer Hazardous to Children: This article notes that some hand sanitzers use rubbing alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol, which is far more dangerous.
- Webmd.com Don’t Drink the Hand Sanitizer: Doctors Warn Against Using Hand Sanitizer to Get Drunk After Reports of Men Drinking It for Alcohol
- CDC: Hand Sanitizer Alert: A story describing the benefits of using hand santizers comprised of 60% ethyl alchohol to reduce infections in “healthcare settings” and gastrointestinal illnesses at home
- New York Times: Hand Sanitizers, Good or Bad?: An article discussing the ineffectiveness of hand sanitizers comprised of less than 60% ethyl alcohol.