An estimated 55 million children and teens from birth to age 19 were treated in emergency departments for unintentional injuries from 2001 to 2006, according to a new report released last month by the Center for Disease Control.
The report also notes that between 2000 and 2005, unintentional injuries resulted in 73,052 deaths among children and teens. Falls caused most non-fatal injuries (about 2.8 million each year), while most deaths were transportation-related (about 8,000 deaths each year involved a motor vehicle occupant, pedestrian or pedal cyclist).
According to the report, every year, an estimated 9.2 million children visited emergency departments for unintentional injuries. Falls were associated with over half of the nonfatal injuries involving children less than one year.
Anyone who has held a baby or toddler understands how wiggly they can be and how easy it is for a baby to fall. They have a way of rolling, teetering, and climbing into and around areas that can place them at risk of falling. Special attention needs to be given to windows, cribs, and other areas around the home, inside and out. Dr. Demetria Michele Smith, MD, a family medicine physician at Centennial Medical Center, offers some suggestions to help protect your child.
Windows around your home are inviting, yet dangerous, places for a child. Safety bars should be installed on windows higher than the ground floor. They need to be child-proof, yet easily opened by an adult in the case of fire. If you choose not to have safety bars, then windows should be closed tightly and locked when children are present. To allow for air circulation, windows should be opened from the top and be supervised by an adult. All furniture should be kept away from windows to prevent climbing onto the sills.
“Beds are another area of caution”, says Dr. Smith. A child under the age of six should not be allowed on the top of a bunk bed. Railings should be added for safety, no matter what the age. Crib railings should always be kept up when the child is in bed as a few tugs and pulls and a child can topple over the rail. The crib mattress should be on the lowest setting for any child who can pull himself up to a standing or even kneeling position. An infant should never be left unattended while on a changing table or bed. For extra safety, the changing table should have a two-inch guardrail. It should also have a safety belt. Safety belts should also be present and used on all high chairs, strollers, carriages, and even shopping carts.
Other general fall prevention tips at home include attaching protective padding to corners of coffee tables, furniture, countertops, and any other items with sharp edges. Hardware-mounted safety gates should be installed at the top and bottom of each stairway and the stairs should be kept free of clutter. Gates that are pressure-mounted are not as secure and can give way.
Accordion gates should not be used at all since they can fold and trap a child’s head. All rugs and other floor coverings should have specially designed non-skid pads placed under them to prevent slippage, especially around the edges. Non-slip strips or appliqués should also be placed on the bottom of the bathtub, says Dr. Maura Thielen, MD, a family medicine physician at Centennial Medical Center.
While outside, make sure all play equipment is free of loose parts and rust. Surfaces should be soft to absorb the shock of falls. Avoid playgrounds with concrete and packed dirt. Instead choose areas that have sand, woodchips, and rubber. A child should never be allowed to play on a trampoline alone, and extra caution should be taken even with safety nets in place and with adult supervision.
Bike helmets should always be worn when riding bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and when roller-blading. A simple fall while riding these can result in a debilitating or even fatal head injury. Dr. Thielen warns that children should stay on sidewalks or designated trails and not ride in streets or alleys where cars might not see them. If your child does suffer from more than a “normal” fall, contact emergency help or your physician for care.