The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has made alcohol-based hand sanitizers (ABHS) widely available in public places. This may warrant determining whether cases of unintentional ocular exposure are increasing, especially in children.
To describe the epidemiologic trend of pediatric eye exposures to ABHS and to report the severity of the ocular lesions.
Retrospective case series conducted from April 1, 2020, to August 24, 2020. Cases were retrieved from the national database of the French Poison Control Centers (PCC) and from a pediatric ophthalmology referral hospital in Paris, France. Cases of ocular exposure to chemical agents in children younger than 18 years during the study period were reviewed. Cases of ABHS exposure were included.
The following data were collected: age, sex, circumstances of exposure, symptoms, size of the epithelial defect at first examination, time between the incident and re-epithelialization, and medical and/or surgical management.
Comparison of the number of eye exposures to ABHS in children between April to August 2020 and April to August 2019.
Between April 1 and August 24, 2020, there were 7 times more pediatric cases of ABHS eye exposures reported in the PCC database compared with the same period in 2019 (9.9% of pediatric eye exposures in 2020 vs 1.3% in 2019; difference, 8.6%; 95% CI, 7.4-9.9; P < .001). The number of cases occurring in public places increased in 2020 (from 16.4% in May to 52.4% in August). Similarly, admissions to the eye hospital for ABHS exposure increased at the same period (16 children in 2020 including 10 boys; mean [SD] age, 3.5 [1.4] years vs 1 boy aged 16 months in 2019). Eight of them presented with a corneal and/or conjunctival ulcer, involving more than 50% of the corneal surface for 6 of them. Two cases required amniotic membrane transplant.
These data support the likelihood of an increasing number of unintentional ocular exposures to ABHS in the pediatric population. To maintain good public compliance with hand disinfection, these findings support that health authorities should ensure the safe use of these devices and warn the parents and caregivers about their potential danger for children.