contains high concentrations of alcohol (in the form of ethanol), which can kill certain cells in the cornea, the researchers explained. The height of a free-standing dispenser (1 meter/3 feet) is similar to small children’s height, making them especially vulnerable to this sort of injury by accidentally spraying alcohol right into their eyes.
‘Hand sanitizers can cause eye irritation and lead to blindness in some cases as it contains high concentration of alcohol.’
Sometimes children may innocently rub the sanitizer into their eyes after applying it to their hands, the consequences of which can be unpleasant.
In May 2020, in France, just 16.4% of kids got sanitizer in their eyes from public dispensers, whereas by August 2020, the number increased to 52.4%.
“Children are naturally curious and great mimics,” comments ophthalmologist Kathryn Colby. “With the current widespread use of hand sanitizer 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 sanitizer and young eyes.”
Another study from India narrated the incidents of small children getting hand sanitizer in their eyes, with harsh consequences.
A 4-year-old girl who got sanitizer in her right eye turned up at the hospital with unbearable light exposure and an eyelid swollen with fluid. There was damage to the inner tissue of her eyelid and cornea. A 5-year-old boy who showed up in the hospital just an hour after his exposure had similar damage to the inner lining of his right eyelid, and some cells in his cornea had begun to die.
Both children recovered after their eyes were washed out with a saline solution in an operating room and getting eye drops every few hours for days.
While the two Indian kids were fortunate, according to French data, two kids required transplants into their corneas of tissue taken from placentas for their eyes to heal properly.
The researchers suggest that its best to wash hands with soap and water, which is more effective than sanitizer, to avoid this problem. Parents should teach their kids how to use dispensers properly. They also recommend stores introduce separate sanitizing stations for kids at heights below a typical child’s eye level and placing caution signs next to sanitizer dispensers.
What to Do if Hand Sanitizer Gets into the Eyes?
The Optometrists Network recommends following the below-given steps immediately if children get sanitizer in their eyes:
- Don’t let them rub their eyes. This should be avoided “at all costs” because it can make the problem worse.
- Wash out the affected eye for ten minutes with warm water. If possible, have them hold their heads under the tap, so water can run into their eyes and out, flushing out the sanitizer.
- If burning and stinging continue, or if their vision changes or they experience vision loss, contact an eye doctor as soon as possible and treat the situation as an emergency. (If you don’t have access to an eye doctor, go to an emergency room.)
Colby says that parents also need to make sure their child’s eyes are quickly examined by a medical professional if they are exposed to alcohol sanitizer. Early diagnosis and treatment are likely to reduce the long-term consequences of chemical injuries to the eyes.
Colby adds that the data shows it’s time for a public awareness campaign to keep kids away from dispensers. She hopes that the problem will hopefully lessen as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.