March 12, 2012
Child Injuries On Stairs Less Frequent, Still A Problem
Fewer kids are getting hurt on stairs today than a decade ago, but new research shows that a US child still goes to the ER due to a stair-related injury once every six minutes, on average, and one in four children under 12 months being carried on the stairs also gets hurt.
One author of the study said it is important for parents to supervise their kids when they are on the stairs and discourage them from playing on them. But he added that changes in how staircases are designed could cut down stair-related injuries.
Dr. Gary Smith, head of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters Health that we should build environments where we know children will live or visit so that they are safe for them.
That includes built-in gates at the top and bottom of stairs, as well as handrails that are easy for small children to reach and grip firmly, he added.
Smith said the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the first nationally representative study on stair injuries in young kids. He and his colleagues found that nearly 932,000 children under 5 were hurt in stair-related accidents in the US between 1999 and 2008. That´s more than 93,000 kids per year, more than 7,700 per month, or nearly 260 per day. Those numbers account for about 46.5 injuries for every 10,000 kids under the age of 5.
The most common injuries were bruises, sprains or cuts, often around the head and neck. About one in ten of the injuries involved a broken bone, and less than 3 percent of the children had to be hospitalized.
Dr. Young-Jin Sue, an ER doctor at The Children´s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, said that was consistent with her own experience in the ER.
“Fortunately the vast majority of stair injuries are very mild,” she told Reuters Health. “They´re soft tissue injuries -- bumps and bruises. I can´t remember the last time we had to hospitalize a child” who was injured on the stairs.
Numbers of injuries have fallen throughout the years, the researchers said, dropping by 11.6 percent by 2008, mostly because of a sharp decline in stair injuries tied to baby walkers, which were once responsible for 25,000 child injuries per year.
Voluntary safety standards enacted in the 1990s and heightened awareness about the dangers of baby walkers helped fuel the decline of those types of injuries -- about 1,300 per year, Smith said.
Despite the decline, a child being admitted to the ER once every six minutes with an injury suffered on the stairs, is a sobering statistic, and quite surprising, Smith said.
It isn´t clear how many children may have died as a result of the injuries because the data obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, or NEISS, don´t track deaths, Smith said.
The data showed that nearly all of the injuries, 95 percent, occurred at home, and about 88 percent were caused by simple falls. Children jumping down the stairs or riding toys on the stairs accounted for 2.6 percent of injuries, and another 2.7 percent were hurt using baby walkers.
Also, about 33,500 injuries were a result of children under the age of 1 who were being carried on the stairs by a parent or other caretaker. Those youngsters were three times more likely to be hospitalized than kids injured in other ways.
“We do live in a multi-tasking world,” Smith said. “If you have to take your child up or down the stairs, only the child should be in your arms.”
Stair gates, handrails and softer steps are good precautions to keeping your child safe from stair-related injuries, but increased awareness is perhaps one of the best advantages, said Smith.
Sue pointed out the importance of keeping stairs clutter-free, and making sure little kids are always supervised. “I think the message for parents over and over and over again is: they´re growing human beings, and you think you´ve got them figured out, but then they're always one step ahead of you,” she told Reuters Health.
Still, even the perfect parent can´t be watching a kid at every second, Smith said.
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