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Why hand sanitizers might be dangerous for preschoolers

Most hand sanitizers contain alcohol, which can pose a significant health risk among preschool-age children.

Medical director of Texas Children's Hospital West Campus Emergency Center, Dr. Kay Leaming-Van Zandt, with pediatrics emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, knows from her own daughters how much hand sanitizer kids use.

"They're pink, they're purple, they're really marketing them and promoting them to young children," Leaming-Van Zandt said.

The problem is most hand sanitizer contain alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  found more than 65,000 Poison Control Center reports of alcohol-based hand sanitizer ingestion among kids under 12 from 2011 to 2014. In large amounts, the side effects are bad. 

"It certainly can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, more severe illnesses can occur as well. Sugar levels can drop. Also it can cause them to have seizures and also go into a coma or even death," Leaming-Van Zandt said.

The most at risk are children younger than 5.

"Mainly because their livers are still developing and so it doesn't take as much of an amount to cause more harmful effects," she said.

 A quick lick of their hands or taste of it probably will not cause severe reaction, but can still cause stomach aches and nausea. That's why, she said, it's important for parents of kids of all ages to keep track of how much is in the bottle even though you may not be with them while they're using it. 

"They like to hang them on their backpacks and they like to line them up and so that's important to consider, especially with children," Leaming-Van Zandt said.

There are organizations that question the safety of long term use of hand sanitizers by kids and pregnant women. Leaming-Van Zandt says she believes the benefits outweigh the risks because the benefit of using hand sanitizer can eliminate exposure to germs that will likely make you sick more often than the hand sanitizer will. 

There are products without alcohol, but Leaming-Van Zandt reminds patients that  alcohol is the active ingredient.