Parents and caregivers have been warned that hand sanitiser can cause serious eye injuries in children.
The warning from our team at Optometry Australia follows a French study which found a significant spike in chemical eye injuries from alcohol-based hand sanitiser (ABHS) in young children due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study led by French doctors revealed there had been a seven-fold increase of ABHS-related ocular exposures in children in 2020 compared to 2019.
Most ABHS-related ocular injuries can be attributed to placement of gel dispensers in relation to children’s height and eye level. These dispensers are often one metre tall which is generally at the level of young children’s eyes and may dispense ABHS mist or splatter into the eyes. Children may also rub unevaporated ABHS directly into their eyes.
The research found that public exposures rose in 2020 from 16.4 per cent in May to 52.4 per cent in August, and admissions to a paediatric eye hospital for ABHS related eye injuries also increased significantly during the same period.
The findings led the study’s ophthalmologists and toxicologist authors to reiterate the damaging risks ABHS can have on children’s eyes including large corneal and conjunctival ulcers, with the more serious injuries requiring surgery to restore vision. A delay in washing the eyes after ABHS exposure due to lack of access to water and the viscosity of some preparations were also noted as being very detrimental to the surface of the eye.
As we know, good vision is vital to children’s educational, social and physical development, and that quality of life can be affected if poor vision is left undiagnosed.
Parents need to be aware of the risks ABHS can pose to children’s eyes, with the most severe cases leading to permanent loss of vision. When using these products, adults and children should handle them with care to avoid unwanted harm.
We advise parents understand the importance of an eye examination if exposure to ABHS occurs, as early diagnosis and treatment reduces long-term injury.
There are a number of measures parents and organisations can take to avoid ABHS eye injuries in children:
- Promoting hand washing with soap and water where possible as a substitute to ABHS
- Teaching and training children how to use hand sanitiser
- Having separate dispensers at shops for children at a lower height (below face level)
- Placing caution signs next to sanitiser dispensers.
Signs and symptoms to look for that indicate your child has irritated eyes include:
- Itching or redness in their eyes
- Complaints of eye pain
- Watery or teary eyes
- Complaining about having blurred vision or sensitivity to light.
If you are concerned about your child's eyesight or if ABHS comes into contact with your children’s eyes, immediately flush their eyes with water and contact your local optometrist for expert advice.