What to Do If Hand Sanitizer Gets Into the Eyes

Asian Girl Using Wash Hand Sanitizer Gel Pump Dispenser, Washing

New York, NY —Hand disinfection with alcohol-based sanitizer has become one of the main strategies for limiting the spread of COVID-19. Since the virus outbreak in March 2020, the widespread use of hand sanitizers has been linked to an increase in eye injuries, especially in children, as revealed in a new study published in January 2021 by researchers in France (JAMA Ophthalmology).

According to the investigation, there were seven times more of these injuries reported between April and August than in the previous year. While some cases reported were mild, resulting in only irritation, tingling, and redness of the eye, severe cases involving ulceration of eye structures were also reported. In fact, a pediatric ophthalmology center in France indicated 13% of young patients required surgery for severe lesions.

Many hand sanitizers have a high concentration of ethanol, a toxic chemical that can kill cells in the cornea and damage adjacent ocular surface structures, explains Diane Calderon-Villaneuva, OD, chief of the primary care service at the SUNY College of Optometry University Eye Center. She and colleague, Deborah Amster, OD, chief of pediatric services, stress taking quick action upon exposure. 

“Rinse off hands and irrigate the eye with waterfor 15-20 minutes to remove as much irritant as possible,” says Dr. Calderon. “It is also highly recommended to consult with an eye care provider, especially if the child is in pain and/or unable to open the eye,” adds Dr. Amster. “Treatment would be indicated to avoid permanent damage to the eye and vision loss.”

Doctors say we can safeguard children and ourselves from unintentional eye exposure and injury from hand sanitizers by taking the following steps:

  • Promoting handwashing with soap and water as the first line of germ defense
  • Modeling by example and teaching children how to use hand sanitizers safely

If you’re unsure what to do, eye care professionals at the University Eye Center are ready to answer your questions, schedule an exam, and address an emergency situation by calling 212-938-4001 or visiting sunyopt.edu. Telehealth consultations are available for both children and adults.

Organization contact: Adrienne Stoller, communications@sunyopt.edu, 212-938-5600

February 8, 2021

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About SUNY Optometry
Founded in 1971 and located in New York City, the State University of New York College of Optometry is a leader in education, research, and patient care, offering the Doctor of Optometry degree as well as MS and PhD degrees in vision science. The College conducts a robust program of basic, translational and clinical research and has 65 affiliated clinical training sites as well as an on-site clinic, the University Eye Center.  SUNY Optometry is regionally accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools; its four-year professional degree program and residency programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association. All classrooms, research facilities and the University Eye Center, which is one of the largest optometric outpatient facilities in the nation, are located on 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. To learn more about SUNY Optometry, visit www.sunyopt.edu.