FDA Warns of Vapors in Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizers

Reports of side effects increased since start of pandemic

June 24, 2021

Ensuring hand sanitizer dispensers are only installed in well-ventilated areas will help prevent side effects from vapors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed an increase in reports of nausea, headaches, and dizziness due to vapors from alcohol-based hand sanitizer when people use these products in enclosed spaces or areas with poor air circulation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

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

An analysis of the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) database between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 found 50 cases of vapor-related side effects from applying alcohol-based hand sanitizers. All 50 cases were reported after March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began—four involved children and the rest involved adults.

After searching the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ (AAPCC) National Poison Data System (NPDS) database, the FDA found 299 additional cases of vapor side effects between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2020. The number of inhalation/nasal exposure cases rose significantly during the pandemic.

The FDA will continue to monitor reports of harm caused by hand sanitizers. Although the administration is not making any changes to the Drug Facts label for hand sanitizers, it will inform the public if additional information becomes available.

The FDA advises consumers to use hand sanitizers in a “well-ventilated area.” Also, to “make sure your hands are completely dry and vapors have cleared before doing any activities involving heat, sparks, static electricity, or open flames.” Some hand sanitizers have been contaminated with harmful ingredients so check the  FDA’s “do not use” list before purchasing product for your facility.

Hand sanitizer users who experience any of the side effects of dizziness, headache, and nausea—or accidentally ingest hand sanitizer—should contact a health care professional or poison control at 1-800-222-1222. Bystanders should call 911 if the user has trouble breathing or is unconscious.

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