07/25/2013 05:41 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2013

Three Disturbing Trends That Can Land Your Teen in the ER... Or Worse


Sometimes I have to ask myself on an ER shift where do they come up with this stuff! The longer I practice the more crazy things I see, and now that I have a 16-year-old I find myself discussing things I never thought I would have to, let alone to a teenager, such as "don't drink hand sanitizers!"

Drinking Hand Sanitizers

Yes, there are an alarming number of cases showing up in the ER and reports to poison centers of kids doing "Purell shots." You read it correctly they are drinking hand sanitizers! In the past we saw very young children accidentally ingest something like this, but now we are seeing teens that are intentionally drinking it to get drunk.

They drink it straight or use Internet instructions to distill the alcohol out of it with salts. The problem is that hand sanitizers are made with ethyl alcohol also call ethanol, which is drinking alcohol. And this alcohol product is legal and easy to obtain for teens. In fact it is very concentrated alcohol, equivalent to 120 proof, which is almost double the proof in vodka.

Therefore it can make your teen very intoxicated quickly, even a small bottle of it. Teenagers are coming to the ER so intoxicated they are comatose from acute alcohol poisoning. The frightening part is that it happens so much more easily and faster because they can ingest much less due to the concentrated nature.

In addition there are other more toxic types of alcohol in hand sanitizers, such as isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol. This is even more dangerous because it causes greater and longer depression of the respiratory system than drinking alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is also more irritating to stomach lining, which lead to internal bleeding.

Tips for Parents:

• Warn your teens drinking hand sanitizer is toxic... and stupid!
• Monitor how fast your hand sanitizer is disappearing... a red flag.
• Switch to foam hand sanitizers, they have more air and less alcohol making it harder to extract the alcohol.

The Cinnamon Challenge

This ridiculous dare has gone viral on the web. Teens are trying to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without water within 60 seconds. This is not harmless fun; it is a senseless and dangerous stunt. Ground cinnamon is a fine powder ground from the bark of a tree. It does not dissolve in water -- therefore you cannot produce enough saliva to swallow it.

On the Internet teens can be seen coughing and gagging while spewing dry powder from their nose and mouth. The problem is that this fine powder then gets aspirated back into their lungs and they start choking. If it clumps together it can block their airways and can cause collapsed lungs and respiratory arrest.

Several cases have ended up on ventilators from aspirating it. It can cause inflammation in the lungs called pneumonitis, which can lead to permanent scarring and damage!

Tips for Parents:

• Warn your teens, this not just a harmless prank but dangerous!
• Remind them cinnamon is for eating and cooking!
• Monitor your spice rack to see if your cinnamon is disappearing when no one is baking... another red flag

Eyeball Licking

Lastly, I thought I have heard and have seen it all. However this last stupid teen trend really takes the cake -- eyeball licking, really? Some bizarre fetish for sexual arousal called oculolinictus. In Japan, a school reported one-third of their pre-teens had tried this, after they were inspired by a music video.

The risk of injury from this ridiculous and dangerous, dare I say, activity is serious. Your teen can get cuts and abrasions to the very sensitive cornea of the eye from someone's tongue. They can develop infections, such as conjunctivitis from transmission of bacteria found in the mouth or viruses such as herpes found in cold sores, which can lead to blindness. I spend a good deal of time telling patients not to touch their face and eyes during cold and flu season, I never dreamt I would have to counsel them on not letting someone lick their eyes!

Tips for Parents:

• Warn them about the dangers of disease transmission from body fluid exchange.
• Remind your teens about good hygiene... good hand washing, no nose picking and not to let anyone lick their eyeballs!
• Monitor their red eyes after a party and don't be afraid to ask... remember it may not be from pot but from eyeball licking, yuck!

For more on Dr. Leigh go to or follow me on twitter @doctor_leigh or like my page on Facebook.