THE National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) is concerned at the surge in calls involving small children drinking alcohol hand gels or getting the substance in their eyes.
So far this year, the centre has received 49 enquiries about alcohol hand gels, of which 33 were paediatric cases.
One enquiry was about a toddler who drank hand gel that had fallen out of an older sibling’s bag.
The centre believes that the cases they have been made aware of only represent the tip of the iceberg.
Doctors do not contact the NPIC about every case of suspected poisoning.
In 2006, the NPIC was contacted about nine patients who had either ingested the gel or got it in their eyes.
The product was largely limited to hospitals three years ago and most of the cases involved deliberate ingestion by patients in certain high risk groups. Only two involved children.
By 2008, however, enquiries received by the centre had more than doubled, with 13 of the 20 relating to children.
The centre, which highlighted their concern in a letter published in the Irish Medical Journal, said many children were carrying their own bottle of antibacterial hand gel, sometimes on the instructions of their school.
It points out that neither the Health Service Executive nor the Department of Education has advised on children carrying alcohol hand gels.
The centre, based in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, has stressed that alcohol hand gels should be stored out of sight and out of reach of children.
NPIC information officer, John Herbert, said children should not carry alcohol hand gel in their school bag or on their person and should only use these products under adult supervision.
While none of the children were displaying signs of severe alcohol poisoning when the NPIC was contacted, it is concerned that younger children are more at risk.
“The toxic dose of alcohol hand gel for a young child is small and children have been severely poisoned by ingesting of other alcohol-containing products, such as mouthwash,” Mr Herbert pointed out.
He said most of the calls received up to the end of November were from parents. A number of schoolteachers had also contacted the centre.
Alcohol gels can cause intense eye irritation and damage. The NPIC recommends rinsing the eye with water for 10 minutes and contacting a GP if symptoms persist.
It points out that ingesting small amounts may cause mild vomiting or mild diarrhoea and children should be encouraged to drink a small glass of water.
“If a child has any other symptoms or appears drunk then bring them to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately,” it urges.
* The Poisons Information Centre of Ireland can be contacted at 01-8092566 or 01-8379964. The website address is www.poisons.ie
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved