The First Thing You Should Do If You Get Hand Sanitizer In Your Eye

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer has become a ubiquitous part of everyday life. It is an effective way to remove germs from hands, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of harmful pathogens to others when soap and water aren't available (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). But in order for hand sanitizer to be effective, it needs to contain at least 60 percent alcohol. This unfortunately can lead to a number of health issues if it gets into parts of your body it isn't meant to — such as the eyes.

This is particularly concerning for small children who are more likely to have such accidents. In fact, a paper published in January 2021 in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology found a seven-fold increase in reports of children getting sanitizer in their eyes in France. Another study published alongside it in the same journal described serious injuries in two children in India who got sanitizer in their eyes.

"Children are naturally curious and great mimics," wrote Kathryn Colby, M.D., Ph.D., ophthalmologist at NYU Langone Health, in an accompanying editorial to the two JAMA Ophthalmology papers. "With the current widespread use of hand sanitizer in public places, it is not unexpected that young children would be drawn to these dispensers, many of which appear to be inadvertently designed to facilitate contact between the hand sanitizer and young eyes."

What to do if hand sanitizer gets into your or your child's eye

Getting hand sanitizer in your eye may lead to symptoms of stinging or burning pain, redness, blurred vision, tearing, swelling, and difficulty keeping the eye open (via Healthline). It's also possible that the alcohol could damage the surface of the eye, but this likely won't cause long-term damage.

If you get hand sanitizer in your eye, avoid rubbing it. Flush your eye as soon as you can with clean room temperature water for 20 seconds. You can do this in your sink by bending over the basin, tilting your head to the side, and letting a stream of water gently flow into your eye. Another option is the shower where you can hold your eyelid open and aim a gentle stream of water at your forehead above your eye. If your child gets hand sanitizer in their eye, flush it immediately. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advises children under the age of 6 should only use hand sanitizer with adult supervision.

In most cases, irritation and redness should go away on their own within a few hours. However, if you or your child are experiencing severe pain, got a large amount of sanitizer in your eye, or symptoms do not ease within a couple of hours, it is time to see a doctor. Call your eye care professional or go to the nearest emergency room for treatment.