FDA issues warning after spike in eye injuries from alcohol-based hand sanitizers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that getting alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the eyes can cause serious injury.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that getting alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the eyes from splashing or touching the eyes after use of hand sanitizer can result in serious injury, including severe irritation and damage to the surface of the eye," the agency said on its website Tuesday

The FDA said between January 1, 2018, and April 30, 2021, it has identified "3,642 cases of side effects resulting from eye exposure to these hand sanitizers." Officials said the most common injury was eye irritation/pain and red eye/conjunctivitis.

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"Eye exposure to hand sanitizer has been reported in all age groups; however, it has occurred most often in children," the agency continued. "Such eye injuries have become much more frequent, likely due to the marked increase in the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic."

FDA regulators say as of now, they don't plan to take any official changes to the drug facts label but wanted to make the public aware of what the agency called a "growing safety issue." Regulators said they'll continue to monitor the safe use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. 

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the best way to decrease the spread and risk of infection is to wash hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

If hand-washing isn’t available, the CDC advises using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.

FDA officials warn people not to use such hand sanitizers near or in the eyes. If the chemical accidentally gets into the eyes, the FDA recommends rising them for 15 to 20 minutes.

Health officials also say to avoid hand sanitizers that replace alcohol with benzalkonium chloride, which is less effective at killing certain bacteria and viruses. Making your own sanitizers isn’t encouraged either; the wrong mix of chemicals can be ineffective or cause skin burns.

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The FDA has a list of hand sanitizers that should be avoided on its website

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.