Ugh, My Kid Swallowed Hand Sanitizer. Now What Do I Do?

Keeping your kiddo’s hands clean is truly an exercise in futility. So as part of your child’s health and wellness plan, you probably have a lot of Purell and other hand sanitizers around to squirt into their grubby, grimy little hands. But kids are curious creatures, so it might be only a matter of time before your child begins wondering what that cold, sterile substance tastes like. And before you know it, you realize that your kid swallowed hand sanitizer. Now what do you do?

It’s important to understand what hand sanitizers, like Purell, are composed of. A major component of the disinfectant is isopropyl or rubbing alcohol, which is the key ingredient for killing germs and other nasties. And ultimately, it’s the alcohol content that you have to be concerned about. “Purell contains isopropyl alcohol instead of ethanol (the type of alcohol in the alcoholic beverages people drink),” explains Dr. Stephen Loyd, MD, Chief Medical Director at JourneyPure. “This poses the risk of serious side effects including blindness.” In some cases, alcohol poisoning can result in death for a child, Poison Control reported.

But what determines if your child might get a little sick— or needs to go to the ER—depends on how much he drank. “There should be no harm in ingesting a small amount of hand sanitizer, depending on the type of alcohol, as some are poisonous and some are not,” says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, MD, a general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor. “Check the label and this will decide on whether you need to speak to Poison Control or not about the situation.” And since swallowing hand sanitizer can cause a burning sensation, most kids probably won’t want to drink too much of it, anyway. If your kiddo swallowed a lot of it, though, they should go to the ER. “If a child ingests a large or unknown amount of Purell, you should go to the hospital immediately and not take any chances,” says Dr. Loyd.

Once you’re at the ER, they’ll take immediate steps to ensure your child’s safety. “The ER is equipped to administer charcoal if your child’s stomach needs to be pumped or if your child needs treatment alcohol poisoning, which is what will happen if your child ingests too much Purell,” says Dr. Loyd. “Young bodies are extremely sensitive to substances like this, so it’s important to be on the safe side and seek medical care, especially if a child is showing signs of confusion, trouble staying awake, or vomiting.”

So if you suspect that your child has swallowed hand sanitizer, (and you’re not sure how much), it’s best to take your child to the hospital right away. “The ER can call Poison Control,” advises Dr. Loyd. “Instead of delaying seeking medical care to call Poison Control yourself, you should go directly to the hospital if you suspect your child has ingested a large amount of hand sanitizer.” And hopefully, your child will stick to putting hand sanitizer on their hands — and not in their mouth.

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