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Safe Toys Emphasized During Gift-Giving Month

Breaking News - December 2005 - Week 3

(Dec 21, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- With another holiday season fast approaching, parents would be wise to put extra thought into their holiday purchases - or run the risk of buying an unsafe toy that could produce tragic consequences.

Picture of a mother and toddler by a Christmas tree

December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month, and experts are taking the opportunity to urge parents to carefully screen the toys their children receive during the holidays and weigh their safety.

Concern for Children Noted

About 165,000 children ages 14 and under were treated at hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2002, according to the latest statistics available from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nearly half of the children treated were ages four and under.

Experts urge parents to read the age guidelines and warning labels placed on toy packaging, and heed them, even if they believe their child is advanced for their age.

For children younger than three years old, physicians are most concerned about choking hazards, says Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children's Hospital, in Ohio.

Parents need to read labels carefully andstick closely to age guidelines, avoiding toys with small parts. They also should avoid small round balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter, says Dr. Smith, who is chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

"I describe those as the perfect plug for a child's airway," he notes, adding that he tells parents to consider equally dangerous those toys or objects that are similarly round or cylindrical - small tops, for instance, or small plastic hot dogs that come with a kitchen play set.

Parents also should avoid giving latex balloons to children, says Dr. Smith, noting that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends no balloons to children under eight years old.

"If a fragment of a balloon would be sucked down into the airway, they tend to drape right over the vocal cords," says Dr. Smith. "I liken it to shrink wrap. It conforms to that opening and it is virtually impossible to get it out."

Fifty-four percent of toy-related deaths in 2002 were due to choking, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, and about 44 percent of those deaths were attributed to balloons.

An easy way to determine if a toy is a choking hazard is to see if it will fit through a cardboard toilet paper tube, says Dr. Smith.

"If the ball rolls through the tube, it's too small to be given to a small child," he says.

With older children, one of the big concerns is suffering a head injury or broken bone while playing with a riding toy, such as a bicycle or skates, explains Dr. Smith.

"If you give one of those toys to a child, it should always be accompanied with a helmet," he says. "The head injuries, the brain injuries, can be devastating and life-threatening."

Injuries Come in Unexpected Ways

Parents also should not give motorized vehicles like mini-bikes or motor scooters to children younger than 16 years old, he says.

"Parents mistakenly believe that because they're child-sized, it's appropriate to ride them," says Dr. Smith. "Children don't possess the maturity, the judgment, coordination and strength to safely operate motorized vehicles."

Children of all ages are vulnerable to eye injuries caused by toys, adds Dr. Joseph M. Miller, a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and chairman of the Pediatric Advisory Committee for Prevent Blindness America.

"Any kind of toy that can be a projectile, the faster it goes the more dangerous it is," says Dr. Miller. "The eye is relatively well-protected by the bones of the head, but when you're a child the bones haven't protruded in front of the eyes, so you're at greater risk."

Projectiles also can become choking hazards.
Parents should inspect toys forparts that stick outthat could harm a child's eye if they fall down.

"Children do tend to run with toys and tend to fall on them," says Dr. Miller. "If something is small enough that it could poke into a hole between your thumb and forefinger, it's potentially dangerous to a child's eye."

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

Safety Tips

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these additional toy-safety tips:

1. Snapping or machine-gun noises from a toy can damage a child's hearing. Caps are dangerous if used indoors or closer than a foot from a child's ear.

2. Toys with strings, ropes, or cords can cause strangling if they get tangled around a child's neck.

3. Parents should check all toys periodically to see if they have broken, leaving a sharp edge or some other hazard. Damaged toys should be thrown away or repaired immediately.

4. Electric toys that are improperly constructed, wired, or misused can shock or burn. Children should be taught under adult supervision how to use electric toys properly.

In addition, other caution is advised noting toys to avoid. The following toys are not appropriate for infants:

  • toys that hang in cribs and playpens with strings longer than seven inches
  • toys that are small enough to become lodged in an infant's throat
  • plastic wrapping from toys, which itself is a suffocation hazard

The following toys are not appropriate for children ages three and under:

  • small toys or toys with removable parts that can become lodged in the child's throat (for example, a stuffed animal with loose eyes, game pieces, batteries, or marbles)
  • toys with breakable or loose parts (for example, toys with small wheels, or action figures with removable pieces)
  • latex balloons
  • plastic wrapping from toys, which itself is a suffocation hazard

Infants and toddlers should never be given toys with any of the following:

  • parts that could pull off
  • exposed wires
  • parts that get hot
  • painted with lead paint
  • toxic materials
  • breakable parts
  • sharp points or edges
  • glass or brittle parts
  • springs, gears, or hinged parts that could pinch or trap fingers

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Prevent Blindness America

Safe Kids Worldwide

US Consumer Product Safety Commission

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