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At-Home Poisons in the Age of the Coronavirus

The Great Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 – our great grandkids are sure to read about it in their history books. COVID-19 has turned the world on its head more times than we can count and challenged the way that everything works. This year, kids will spend more time at home than ever before. Without the weekday escapes of school and extracurriculars, parents and kids alike find themselves in uncharted territory. We invited Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a poison education specialist at Banner Poison and Drug Information Center to help parents navigate these circumstances and protect their families from lesser known and emerging risks of at-home poisons.

Is Hand Sanitizer Poisonous?

“This is one of the most common questions we get in the era of COVID-19,” said Dr. Kuhn. “Not only do we have more hand sanitizer in the home than ever, we are using it for ourselves and children exponentially more than in years past.” Dr. Kuhn described two main types of hand sanitizer, alcohol-based and disinfectant. By-and-large, the most common hand sanitizers are alcohol-based. Dr. Kuhn offered a few warnings for parents and caretakers.

Hand sanitizer is dangerous if ingested

Dr. Kuhn reminded us that the isopropyl and ethyl alcohols in hand sanitizer are essentially extremely stiff drinks. When you think about it that way, the dangers of ingestion in children is obvious. Inebriation can be especially dangerous for children because their natural blood sugar levels are less tolerant. Additionally, we know that drunkenness comes with other dangers such as choking, vomiting, etc. Have questions? Contact the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at (800) 222-1222. If you believe that your child has swallowed more than one or two mouthfuls or if they are drowsy/nauseous, a trip to the emergency department is necessary.

There is such a thing as too much

Especially in children, it is possible to apply too much hand sanitizer to the skin. “Hand sanitizer should be applied to the hands and wrists,” said Dr. Kuhn. “Especially during COVID-19, parents feel the need to sanitize everything. This is a good inclination. But applying enough hand sanitizer to cover entire limbs, the face, or more of the body could result in some toxic side effects.”

Ethyl alcohols can sometimes become methanol

Methyl and ethyl alcohols are very chemically similar,” noted Dr. Kuhn. “With a sharp increase in the production of hand sanitizer around the world, it’s not surprising that we have seen an increase in cases where methanol is inadvertently manufactured.” Methanol is a significantly more harmful substance than isopropyl and ethyl alcohols. A single mouthful of hand sanitizer containing methanol is potentially dangerous if untreated and could be fatal. Buying from reliable brands is a safe way to avoid these manufacturing errors. The FDA also has a website of recalled hand sanitizer products known to contain methanol.

Has COVID-19 Made Homes More Poisonous?

Our circumstances have changed, and while it’s true that many homes are actually cleaner than ever, there may be a few new and existing dangers that parents may not have considered.

  • Kids are spending more time with grandparents than ever. The next time you drop off your kids, walk the house and make sure that furniture is child-proofed, medications are out of reach and dangerous tools and knives are locked away safely. The number one reason for child-related ingestions is access to medications intended for use by adults, typically a parent or grandparent.
  • Dr. Kuhn reported that during 2020, he has seen a 20% increase in scorpion stings. He advised parents to go ahead with regular pest control measures, even during the pandemic. These days, we are often home during peak pest hours, which could explain the recent rise.
  • We are sharing space more than ever. If you have relatives in your home for extended periods of time, it’s important that you be on the same page. Share with them the habits you have put in place to keep your family safe at home.
  • Dr. Kuhn listed a few lesser known household toxins that could be found on counters and in garages such as vaping cartridges, pet flea medication, pesticides and even some household plants, like the pencil cactus, which is harmful if ingested.

Hydroxychloroquine is another popular topic amid the pandemic. Dr. Kuhn commented that the medicine has been around for a long time and likely isn’t found in many homes. However, he offered a strong warning. “Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only medication, sometimes used to treat auto-immune diseases. It is extremely potent and even just one small dose could cause death in children.”

If you have questions about household poisons or if someone in your home may have been poisoned contact the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at (800) 222-1222.

Poison Prevention Parenting Safety COVID-19