Hand Sanitizer and Asthma

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I am a nurse of twenty-four years. I have worked in medical, pediatrics, NICU, and am now working in hemodialysis. I have recently developed workplace induced irritable larynx syndrome. When I am exposed to the hand sanitizer, even if someone uses it ten feet away I become wheezy, have a coughing fit and become very short of breath. This episode then seems to trigger my asthma and I remain short of breath for over a week following the exposure. I am trying to think of a place in nursing that I could work and not be exposed to the hand sanitizer. Does anyone have any ideas? To make it more complicated I can't go into people's homes that have cats. I am very allergic to them and go asthmatic instantly. Has anyone out there had this same issue with the hand sanitizer? I love nursing and would like to continue with it but as you see I face a bit of a dilemma! Thanks for your help


97 Posts

That sounds a bit odd. I'm loaded with allergies, including cats and pretty much anything else that is considered a common allergen. But alcohol gel has never bothered me, other than really dry/irritated skin esp this time of the year. I wonder if it is the odor of the gel and not necessarily an irritant in the gel that is causing your problems? IE, the opposite of aromatherapy, your brain is reacting negatively to that smell for some reason? I know sometimes a really foul odor like from an ostomy bag will make me dizzy, nauseous, and want to cough, but it's a mental thing more so than like an allergic reaction. Just offering some ideas.

kessadawn, BSN, RN

1 Article; 300 Posts

Specializes in pediatric critical care. Has 7 years experience.

Does this only happen with the one particular brand of sanitizer used at your job? If so, would management be willing to change brands to something unscented?


2 Posts

Unfortunately I have reacted to every hand sanitizer I have met. Thanks for your response.


147 Posts

Specializes in NICU.

Maybe school nursing and just use soap and water?

Ayvah, RN

722 Posts

Specializes in Med Surg, Specialty. Has 10 years experience.

Seems like most patient care areas have sanitizer somewhere. Only place I could think of where you would likely be ok would be telephone triage/insurance nursing where you would not see patients face to face.


56 Posts

The same thing happens to me when I use or someone near me uses hand sanitizer too!

And it isn't any better in nursing education if you are at a clinical site where the students use it. (Because I work part time as a nurse educator in addition to my staff nurse position.)

BTW, I know 4 nurses at our hospital with the same problem. One has become so sensitive that she was off on several leaves. Her pulmonologist put her off for a year, she came back and within a few minutes was back in ER. She was off again for a year and came in to visit a severly ill family member and ended up back in ER. Her pulmonologist says she can never work as a nurse again.

Makes you wonder about our repeated exposures to some of these things.

Home Health Columnist / Guide


11 Articles; 17,857 Posts

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 46 years experience.

There are many non-clincal areas and non-hospital based positions that have almost no hand sanatizer use, mostly soap and water after handeling paperwork:

Medical Records, telephone triage, Quality Improvement/Utilization review, home heatth intake, patient access departments, insurance case management etc off the top of my head.

morte, LPN, LVN

7,015 Posts

NRSKarenRN said:
There are many non-clincal areas and non-hospital based positions that have almost no hand sanatizer use, mostly soap and water after handeling paperwork:

Medical Records, telephone triage, Quality Improvement/Utilization review, home heatth intake, patient access departments, insurance case management etc off the top of my head.

There would have to be proscritions on the rest of the staff from supplying/using their own.....

and, actually we (nursing) got along really well before it was invented!

Specializes in LPN, Peds, Public Health.

It doesn't get to me as bad as it does you, but hand sanitizer bothers me as well. I would actually prefer to go back to the good ol soap and water. I think hand sanitizer is over-used and not as great as what people seem to think.

I have a horrible time with cigarette smoke. I was a smoker for about 10 years or so and since I have quit I have horrible wheezing attacks anytime I'm around smoke or even just the smell from clothing. I hate it when patients come in a smell of smoke, can't really say anything to them, but I suffer from it for a good couple of days.

dishes, BSN, RN

3,950 Posts


Have you been diagnosed as being allergic to the hand sanitizer? If so, have you filed an occupational asthma claim with worker's compensation? Employer's must to take every reasonable precaution to try and prevent exposure. Check with your local compensation board they may help you find an accommodated position in your current workplace or a more suitable work environment.



1 Post

I have had a similar response to alcohol based hand sanitizers for approximately 9 years now. At first it was a minor asthma attack but they have since became a severe response to the hand sanitizer. If I get even just a small inhalation of the vapors, I will have an asthma attack and will require a rescue inhaler. If I get a major exposure a rescue inhaler may not be enough to help me out of the attack and I may end up in the ER and then require Solumedrol, a series of Nebulizer treatments followed by course of steroids that will last anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of the reaction. I have also been hospitalized twice for four days each time due to severe asthma reactions that after the ER treatment and the home management could not get my lungs under control. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer can also be found in some aerosol hair sprays, perfumes and aerosol sunscreens to name just a few other products I also react too...Yes I am that allergic to these products. It makes it hard to go places like hospitals, malls, stores, just about anywhere because hand sanitizer is everywhere!!! People are shocked when I tell them I am severely allergic to the stuff and some even feel the need to test me and will use it in front of me to see if I'm telling the truth...Yes people are that stupid and cruel, and then are surprised when I actually have an asthma attack in front of them. Most people are understanding, even in the healthcare fields and will use soap and water instead. I hope this helps you to know that you are not alone. I hope your case does not progress to the severity of mine, but what I do suggest is you do get a great pulmonologist right away because the key for me is proper management. You should not be struggling to breath for a week after an attack. It sounds like you need a dose of Prednisone or maybe nebulizer treatments after your exposures to treat your lungs to get the inflammation back down. Proper treatment of your lungs is the key to prevent any damage. I would happy to give you any further info if you are interested. Good luck.