FDA warns that vapors from alcohol-based hand sanitizers can have side effects

June 23, 2021

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that symptoms such as headache, nausea, and dizziness can occur after applying alcohol-based hand sanitizers to the skin. The agency said these symptoms are likely to occur because of vapors from hand sanitizers, potentially from exposure in enclosed spaces or places with poor air circulation.

“We have received increasing reports of these side effects since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the FDA said.

For cases reported to FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) database in the 11 years between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2020, the agency identified 50 cases of serious adverse events after applying alcohol-based hand sanitizers. All were reported after March 2020 and coincided with the marked increase in the use of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the 50 cases were in adults, with four in children.

For cases from U.S. poison control center calls, in the 3 years between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2020, the FDA identified 299 cases of skin and inhalation/nasal exposures that resulted in symptoms from exposure to hand sanitizer products. The number of exposures rose significantly after March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most cases were in adults, with children 5 years old or younger accounting for 12%. Most cases resulted in minor or minimal effects; however, some required treatment by a healthcare professional.

In the analyses of FAERS and poison control center data, the FDA said it excluded cases involving alcohol-based hand sanitizer with confirmed or suspected methanol contamination.

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