Hand sanitizers are over-the-counter (OTC) drug products. Symptoms of headache, nausea, and dizziness may occur after applying alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the skin. These symptoms can be caused by inhaling vapors from hand sanitizer, by exposure to confined spaces or places with poor air circulation...The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just released a warning.

Increasing cases of side effects due to using hand sanitizer during the pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more reports indicated about the disadvantages of improperly using alcohol-based sanitizers. Most people have a slight disadvantage. However, some more severe cases require medical attention.

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Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can cause poisoning if used incorrectly

For calls to Poison Control Centers, over the 3 years (January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020), FDA identified 299 cases of skin and respiratory exposure/ nose leading to symptoms from exposure to hand sanitizer products. The number of exposures increased significantly after March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most cases are in adults, with children 5 years of age and younger accounting for 12%. The majority of cases experience minor or minimal effects, with only a few requiring medical attention.

The FDA is continuing to monitor reports of adverse events associated with hand sanitizer. However, at this time, the FDA has not made any changes to the “Drug Information” label for hand sanitizers.

Notes for users

Users should use alcohol-based hand sanitizer in a well-ventilated area. If you are using hand sanitizer in an enclosed area such as a car, open the windows to improve ventilation until the hand sanitizer dries and evaporates. When using hand sanitizer, rub your hands until they feel completely dry and allow the steam to evaporate before performing activities that may involve heat, sparks, static electricity, or flames. Read and follow the instructions and warnings on the OTC “Drug Information” label.

Some types of hand sanitizer may be contaminated with harmful ingredients, so choose hand sanitizer with clear origin. Avoid products that have been banned from circulation. In case of side effects from hand sanitizer or accidental ingestion, contact your nearest healthcare professional or poison control center.

Store hand sanitizer and all other over-the-counter medications high up, out of reach and sight of children. Young children, especially toddlers, may be attracted to pleasant odors or brightly colored hand sanitizer solutions, bottles, bags or containers. Adults should always supervise young children using hand sanitizer, as swallowing even a small amount of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in children, which can cause serious illness or death.

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Be aware of using hand sanitizer for children.

Do not use hand sanitizer near your eyes as this can cause burns and eye damage. Store hand sanitizer away from heat and open flames as it contains alcohol and is flammable.

Health care professionals should use hand sanitizer in a well-ventilated area, especially when using frequently during the day; guide consumers about the appropriate usage of hand sanitizer, and encourage them to read and follow the instructions and warnings on the “Drug Information” tag on the label.

To help regulators track drug safety issues, users and healthcare professionals report side effects associated with hand sanitizers or other medications to relevant authorities. .

Is hand sanitizer on the pharmaceutical list?

Hand sanitizer is an over-the-counter (OTC) medicinal product that can help users reduce bacteria on their hands. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the best way to prevent the spread of infections and reduce the risk of illness is to wash your hands with common soap and water. Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, especially after using the toilet; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends that users use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which contains at least 60% alcohol.


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