One disturbing byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic appears to be a massive increase in chemical burns to children's eyes caused by hand sanitizer. A paper published in JAMA Ophthalmology Thursday found a sevenfold increase in the number of such events in France between 2019 (1.3% of all chemical eye exposure incidents) and the end of 2020 (9.9%). In 2019, one toddler in the country was hospitalized after getting hand sanitizer in his eye; in 2020, 16 kids were hospitalized for the same thing, LiveScience reports. Another study found similar incidents in India. Two of the children documented in the studies had to have transplants of tissue into their corneas, or eye grafts, to fully heal. Six others had ulcers develop in their corneas, Gizmodo reports.
Hand sanitizer typically contains ethanol, which can kill some corneal cells and cause blindness. The researchers point out that children might not simply be wiping their eyes before the product has dried on their hands; due to their height, they are at just the right level to get sanitizer in their eyes if they accidentally spray some from one of the freestanding dispensers that now proliferate. "With the current widespread use of hand sanitizer in public places, it is not unexpected that young children would be drawn to these dispensers, many of which appear to be inadvertently designed to facilitate contact between the hand sanitizer and young eyes," they write. They point out that soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer, and safer. (Read more coronavirus stories.)