My kiddo comes home from each of her birthday parties with a small gift bag. The gift bags usually contain small toys, coloring stuff, a mug, and a few pieces of candy. Few months back, I was surprised to find a small container of hand sanitizer wrapped in the bag. I knew everyone was obsessed, but I hadn’t realized that we were so obsessed with the supposed “miracle germ remover” that bottles are now replacing toys in gift bags. Not only gift bags, the sanitizers have been successful in making a place for themselves in the purses of mums also. Such “germophobe” mums try their level best to keep their kids out of danger zone of bacteria. They carry sanitizers everywhere, to the play area, to birthday parties. They also pack it in their kids school bag.
The question is that is there anything wrong in doing that?
Before we come up with an answer, let us find out little more about hand sanitizers from medical point of view.
What are hand sanitizers?
-Hand sanitizers are products that can reduce microorganisms on the skin. They are categorized under consumer antiseptic products. An antiseptic product is a substance that kills germs and harmful bacteria.
When are they indicated for use?
– They are recommended to be used when soap and water is not readily available for hand wash.
What do these antiseptics contain?
– Hand sanitizers usually contain alcohol. The concentrations ranges from 45% to 95%. It is the same alcohol found in beer, wine and other liquors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol or a combination of both in concentrations ranging from 60 to 95 percent. Other ingredients include water, fragrance, and glycerin. Other non-alcohol based hand sanitizers contain an antibiotic called triclosan or triclocarban.
What is the current status of hand sanitizers?
– These products have not been shown to be more effective at preventing illness than plain soap and water. Additionally, emerging data have raised concerns that long-term, daily use of these products may outweigh their presumed benefits.
The long-term, daily use of these products may outweigh their presumed benefits. How is that possible?
– The obsession and failure of therapeutic effect: “Germophobe” mums fall victim to compulsive use of hand sanitizers rather than teaching kids about the benefit of hand wash using soap and water. Such kids very often fall sick. There are studies that concluded that ultra clean environments during the early stages of a child’s life lowers their immunity. It makes them vulnerable to various diseases. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill ALL types of germs, such as a stomach bug called norovirus, some parasites, and Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea. Hand sanitizers also may not remove harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead. Handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs, pesticides, and metals on hands. Knowing when to clean your hands and which method to use gives the best chance of preventing sickness. Also, non-alcohol based antibiotic sanitizers may cause drug resistance.
– Toxic effects due to misuse: Recent reports have identified serious consequences, including shortness of breadth, acidic blood and other body fluids, and coma in young children who swallowed alcohol-based hand sanitizer. According to CDC, the majority of intentional exposures to alcohol hand sanitizers occurred in children aged 6–12 years. Alcohol hand sanitizer exposures were associated with worse outcomes than were nonalcohol hand sanitizer exposures.
There are a lot of concerns on the use of hand sanitizers. But, in this era of bugs, parents always look for safety solutions. As there are a lot of positive and negative discussions on various forums about hand sanitizers, here are 5-tips from a doctor:
1. Use a hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
2. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Use non-alcohol based sanitizer only if soap and water, and alcohol-based ones are not available.
3. Donot use hand sanitizers for kids less than 2 years.
4. Always monitor the use of sanitizer. Put a dime-sized amount on dry hands and have children rub their hands together until completely dry. Make sure youths do not put hands wet with sanitizer in their mouth. Teach kids the right way to use sanitizer, so that they use it safely in school. Use a hand sanitizer a very few times a day only and if skin is not damaged.
5. Store hand sanitizer out of children’s reach. Although a lick of sanitizer probably won’t make kids sick, they could swallow enough to cause alcohol poisoning.
Final message is that for kids, washing hands can be a fun and entertaining activity. It is simple enough for even very young children to understand. Handwashing gives kids a chance to take an active role in their own health.
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