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During the pandemic, there has been a rise in alcohol-based hand sanitizer use. They have been vital products in these times. However, this increased practice has had consequences on children; in particular, eye-related injuries.
A recent study that was led by Dr. Gilles Martin, an opthamologist, focused on the exposure of hand sanitizer to the eyes of children under 18. Based on data from French Poison Control Centres and an ophthalmology children’s hospital in Paris, Dr. Martin and his team reported that accidental eye injuries of kids increased significantly during a 5-month period in 2020, compared to that same period in 2019. Between some months in 2019, hand sanitizer-related cases made up the 1.3% of total calls made to the French Poison Control Centres. However, within those same months in 2020, the cases increased to account for 9.9% of the total calls.
Many of the cases were mild, such as mild eye pain or acute inflammation. However, there were some moderately severe cases, such as those involving keratitis, which is the inflammation of the cornea. Moreover, in 2020, 63 of the cases involved public exposure to hand sanitizers through hand sanitizer dispensers in various public areas. However, in 2019, there were no such cases.
Dr. Sonam Yangzes, who is an eye consultant, explains that hand sanitizers mainly consist of ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, which are toxic to the eyes. She states that the increased use in hand sanitizers during the pandemic has made children more susceptible to eye related injuries. Dr. Martin adds that this is due to the fact that the dispensers are around 3 feet high, which is the eye level of young children. Furthermore, these injuries can occur if children rub their eyes, and the alcohol from the hand sanitizers gets into them. More often than not, the blink reflex prevents much of it from reaching the eyes, so therefore, people usually only experience eye irritation. However, if some does reach the eye, that can potentially be harmful. For example, large amounts can possibly cause blindness.
In order to battle this rising issue, Dr. Yangzes suggests to "Lower the height of alcohol dispensers so that the level is below the children's eyes [and] face." In addition to that, Dr. Yangzes adds that a caution sign should be placed at the respective site as a safeguard.