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Is Huffing Hand Sanitizer Dangerous?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

You may have heard of teenagers drinking cough syrups or inhaling cans of nitrous to get high, but have you heard of huffing hand sanitizer? Unfortunately, many teenagers and even some adults have begun sniffing hand sanitizer to get intoxicated. Because hand sanitizer is alcohol-based, it is possible to get high if you inhale the fumes.

You may be wondering, why would someone huff hand sanitizer when they could just drink alcohol? The truth is most people who huff hand sanitizer are too young to purchase alcohol. Additionally, some adults may huff hand sanitizer to prevent people from noticing they are abusing substances.

When a person continually huffs hand sanitizer, they will become addicted to the alcohol it contains. Because of this, many teenagers who huff hand sanitizer begin drinking it as well. Without proper medical intervention, this leads to long-term addiction and an array of adverse health effects.

What is Hand Sanitizer Made From?

Less than 1% of hand sanitizer contains fragrances, base, colors, polyacrylate, and emollients. Polyacrylate is an acidic substance used to change the consistency of hand sanitizer into a gel. While there are small amounts of polyacrylate in hand sanitizer, this substance is not safe for human consumption as it can damage your eyes, skin, and lungs.[1]

While 40% of hand sanitizer is made up of water, the other 60% of hand sanitizer’s contents are alcohol. The alcohol used in hand sanitizer might be ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. If you or someone you know huffs or drinks hand sanitizer that contains isopropyl alcohol, serious risks of experiencing alcohol poisoning and even death are possible.[1]

Non-alcoholic hand sanitizer is typically made of antimicrobial compounds like benzalkonium chloride. If you attempt to drink or sniff this type of hand sanitizer you will experience an array of adverse health effects. While hand sanitizer usually only contains 0.13% of benzalkonium, this substance is lethal when it is consumed at a concentration of 10% or more. Small amounts of benzalkonium may lead to skin and mucosa irritation, while large amounts lead to chemical burns and death.[2]

Why Are Teens and Other People Sniffing Hand Sanitizer?

It is extremely common for teenagers to experiment with substances, especially when they are hanging out with their peers. While you have probably heard of teens huffing computer dusters and whipped cream cans, huffing hand sanitizer hasn’t been discussed as much until recently. According to the FDA, the COVID-19 pandemic might be playing a role in the rise of hand sanitizer addiction.[3] Because hand sanitizer has become an everyday item, more and more teenagers have begun experimenting with it.

Another explanation for teen hand sanitizer addiction is their inability to purchase alcohol for themselves. If your teenage son or daughter is sniffing hand sanitizer, it is probably because they are having a hard time obtaining drinking alcohol and are looking to experiment. Unfortunately, they are failing to realize the potential dangers of sniffing and drinking hand sanitizer.

Lastly, when adults abuse hand sanitizer it is usually for one of two reasons. The first reason is that they are addicted to alcohol and are trying to hide their alcohol abuse from you and their loved ones. However, if one of your family members is a recovering alcoholic, they may convince themselves that huffing hand sanitizer is not considered a relapse. This can be very dangerous, as their cravings for alcohol will continue to increase when they abuse hand sanitizer.

What Happens If You Inhale Hand Sanitizer?

If you inhale hand sanitizer, the first thing that will happen is you will develop a headache or a serious migraine. Even just one sniff of hand sanitizer causes headaches due to the potency of the rubbing alcohol that hand sanitizer contains. Additionally, nausea and vomiting are likely to occur if you start sniffing hand sanitizer. This is because long-term abuse of hand sanitizer leads to digestive tract issues.

If you inhale hand sanitizer you may develop chemical burns on the insides of your nose. Short-term abuse of hand sanitizer may lead to allergy-like symptoms, while long-term abuse often results in permanent damage to mucous membranes and a loss of smell.

Dangers of Huffing Hand Sanitizer

Huffing hand sanitizer is extremely dangerous and can cause you to develop an array of adverse health effects. Some of the dangers of sniffing hand sanitizer include:

  • Agitation or significant changes in mood
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Drowsiness
  • Impairment of judgment
  • Feelings of excitement or euphoria
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Chemical burns in the nose
  • Loss of smell
  • Worsened respiratory conditions

Huffing hand sanitizer is extremely dangerous and often leads to addiction. If you or someone you know is sniffing or drinking hand sanitizer, professional treatment is necessary.

Find Help for Yourself or a Loved One Today

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