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Health blog

Children and Falls

All parents want their children to be safe and secure – especially at home. Yet thousands of children are treated in emergency rooms each year after sustaining falls in the home and elsewhere.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for all children from birth to age 19. As many as 8,000 children are treated each day in hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. That’s nearly 2.8 million children per year! And that number is far fewer than the actual number of injuries because an unknown number of children who have fallen are treated in a physician’s office or do not receive any attention from health care providers.

Stair-related injuries are perhaps the most common cause of falls in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in April of this year which found that over 930,000 children younger than five years old were treated in emergency rooms for stair-related injuries during the period 1999 to 2008. That amounts to one child being treated for such falls every six minutes!

And one-quarter of the injuries among children less than one year old occurred when a parent or other caregiver was carrying the baby down steps. These falls were especially dangerous. Children injured in these falls were three times more likely to be hospitalized for treatment of their injury than children whose falls not include an adult toppling down the stairs with them.

Study authors suggested that when adults carry children down stairs, they should not carry anything else. Additionally, they should maintain contact with the handrail with one hand at all times. Babies should not be carried down stairs while they are in strollers or seats, nor should the caregiver attempt to use a stroller on an escalator. Instead, take the elevator.

Other commonsense measures for making stairs safer for children are to install baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Stairs should be kept clutter-free and in good repair. Handrails should be used at all time. The study concluded that both increased prevention efforts and improved stairway design are needed to minimize stair-related falls in children.

Falls in bathtubs and showers are another common cause of injuries among children. A study spanning nineteen years found approximately 43,600 children are injured in bathtubs and showers every year. While some injuries are related to being burned by hot water or being submerged, 80% of bath and shower injuries are falls. About half of these falls occur in children four years of age and younger. The face, head and neck are most commonly injured.

Researchers suggested that tub and shower safety standards should be reevaluated to improve slip resistance. In the meantime, parents can decrease these falls by using nonslip mats or coatings in bathtubs and showers. Even the widely-available press-on decals can help reduce falls when properly attached to tub and shower floors. Handholds can be installed and shatterproof glass can be used in sliding doors to prevent lacerations associated with an accidental fall.

Falls from windows are another common cause of injuries among children. In a nineteen year study, nearly 100,000 children were treated in emergency rooms after falling from windows. Not surprisingly, the rate of injury is higher among children younger than five years old. In addition to young age, a fall from three stories or higher, or falling onto a hard surface, were likely to result in more serious injuries.

Most of the falls occur during spring and summer when windows are more likely to be open. That signals a special need to be extra vigilant during those months. Other prevention measures include the use of window guards or window locks. Parents can also move furniture away from windows so that a young child is not tempted to climb the furniture to get to that tantalizing window. Simply planting bushes, grass or flower beds beneath windows can decrease the risk for injury if a child does fall.

Stairs. Bathtubs and showers. Windows. All present a hazard to young children who cannot understand the potential for serious injuries. But parents and other caregivers can do a lot to prevent many of the thousands of injuries children experience each year due to falls. And much of it is just common sense and taking the time to think.



Resources: CDC. Falls in children, at: www.cdc.gov/safechild/Falls/index.html. American Academy of Pediatrics, at: www.aap.org.

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