For most of us, hand sanitiser is an essential part of life at the moment, using it in public spaces and in our homes to help limit the spread of coronavirus. As a result, we’ve noticed that there has been some concern about what to do when hand sanitiser or other alcohol based rubs come into contact with your eyes and cause irritation.
To help, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions about hand sanitiser getting into your eyes and shared our helpful tips on what to do if this happens.
How might hand sanitiser get into your eye?
The World Health Organisation advises that an effective way to prevent the spread of viruses and infections is by regularly cleaning your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub, like hand sanitiser, particularly when outside of the home.1
This increased usage means that accidentally getting hand sanitiser into your eye is much easier than it sounds — whether you’re squirting the solution out of the bottle and it accidentally splashes into your eye or touching your eyes too soon after using hand sanitiser.
While we understand it can be tricky, it’s important to try to avoid touching your face as much as possible, but especially in public places, as per the current NHS guidelines.2 As a glasses or contact lens wearer, the likelihood of you touching your face is naturally higher. For more advice on this, follow our expert advice on wearing contact lenses at this time, and wearing glasses.
Can hand sanitiser damage your eyes?
If you get hand sanitiser in your eye, you might initially feel a stinging or burning sensation, ornotice your eyes become red and watery. This is because the high alcohol content in sanitiser (60-95% which makes it effective for killing germs) can irritate your eyeball and the muscles around it.
While this can be uncomfortable, it’s not likely that getting a small amount of sanitiser in the eye will cause any long-term damage to your eyes or vision.
If you do happen to get hand sanitiser in your eyes, it’s important to just remain calm, and follow the steps below.
What to do if you get hand sanitiser in your eye
If you get hand sanitiser in your eye, we recommend the following:
- Firstly, keep your hands away from your eyes and avoid rubbing them to prevent any more of the solution from getting in or irritating them further
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to remove the sanitiser
- Rinse your eyes out with clean water for about ten to twenty minutes, depending on the severity. You can do this by filling a large bowl with clean water, then submerging your face while keeping your eyes open. Or you can continually splash clean water onto your face while keeping your eyes open. This should remove the solution from your eye.
If using a gentle stream of running water in your bathroom or kitchen sink, the water can run continuously into your eye and just as easily drain out. Be sure to keep your other eye tightly closed to avoid contaminated water from seeping into your unaffected eye. 1,2
- If you have comfort eye drops, place one or two drops into your irritated eye as this will help to soothe it and reduce discomfort. Ask a friend or family member to help with this if you’re having difficulties
Click here for more information
Keeping children’s eyes protected whilst using hand sanitiser
With more children using hand sanitisers to help them stay safe, there is some concern from parents around potential eye injuries that may happen as a result. A recent French study found a 7-fold increase in alcohol-based, hand sanitiser-related eye injuries in children compared to 2019.3 With hand dispensers across supermarkets, shopping centres, and even at home, it’s important to know how to keep your child’s eyes protected, while still limiting the spread of the virus. You and your child should still continue to wash and sanitise your hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes and face as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19. To keep your child safe whilst doing so, we recommend the following:
- Thoroughly teach your child how to safely use the hand sanitiser dispenser when disinfecting their hands, taking care to avoid their eyes and mouth
- Always supervise your child when using sanitiser in-public, as dispensers at children’s eye-level may increase the chance of injury
- Whenever possible, encourage hand washing with soap and water instead of hand sanitiser
- If your child gets sanitiser in their eye, follow the guidance above to remove hand sanitiser from their eye. See your GP or medical professional to ensure their eyes are properly checked.
When to see your optician about sanitiser in your eye
There are usually no long-term effects if hand sanitiser gets into your eyes. But if you’ve rinsed out your eyes and the irritation does not ease within a few hours, then you should consult your local optician or GP. They’ll be able to guide you on some safe and simple ways to care for your eyes.
For more information about keeping your eyes healthy, visit our COVID-19 care hub.
1. NHS Eye Injuries https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eye-injuries/ [accessed 11/02/21]
2. Optometrists Network, Eye Emergency: Hand Sanitizer in Your Eye https://www.optometrists.org/eye-emergency-hand-sanitizer-in-your-eye/ [accessed 11/02/21]
3. Gilles C. Martin, Gael Le Roux, Damien Guindolet. Et al (2021). Pediatric Eye Injuries by Hydroalcoholic Gel in the Context of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/2775155?resultClick=1 [accessed 11/01/21]
3. World Health Organisation (2020), Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public [online]. Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public [accessed 11/01/21]