Staying Safe at Every Age: Preventing Childhood Injuries

Injuries are the leading cause of death and disability to U.S. children. According to the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, 20 children die each day as a result of preventable injuries – resulting in more deaths than all other diseases combined.

Motor vehicle crashes, choking, burns, falls, drowning and poisoning are just some of the health threats that bring nearly 200 children to the Emergency Department at Children’s of Alabama every day.

“Injuries in children are preventable,” said Kathy Monroe, M.D., medical director of the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department and professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Children’s is participating in National Injury Prevention Day on Nov. 18 to bring awareness to the alarming statistics related to childhood injuries and to help parents and caregivers learn how to anticipate and prevent childhood injuries.”

The rooftop lights at Children’s of Alabama will be lit green on Nov. 18, joining other pediatric hospitals across the country to “help light the way toward child injury prevention.” Doctors in Children’s Emergency Department and the Adolescent Medicine and Primary Care clinics as well as physicians around the state from the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics will distribute safety education materials to patient families.

Injuries affect children of all ages. Dr. Monroe and the team of physicians in the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department offer these age-based tips to protect children from the most common causes of injury.

Infants –  Safe Sleep

There are about 3,500 sleep-related deaths among U.S. babies each year, which occur from accidental suffocation, co-sleeping or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Risk Factors:

  • Placing infants to sleep on their stomach
  • Sharing a bed with an adult
  • Sleeping on a soft surface or with loose bedding
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke

What You Can Do:

  • Follow the ABCs of safe sleep: Alone, on his or her Back and in a Crib.
  • Put your baby to sleep alone. (Never let the baby sleep in bed with you. It is okay to share a bedroom, but not the same sleeping surface until your child is at least one year old.)
  • Put your baby to sleep on his or her back. (Babies should always be placed on their backs when going to sleep for both naps and bedtime.)
  • Put your baby to sleep in a crib or bassinet. (This should be completely empty except for one fitted sheet.
  • Do not use soft bedding, bumpers, blankets, pillows or soft toys in the crib or bassinet.)

Toddlers – Poisoning

Children of all ages are at risk of poisoning in the home. Young children and toddlers often put what they find in their mouths as a way of exploring their world. Safely storing household medications and products is the best way to prevent your child from accidental poisoning.

Risk Factors:

  • Brightly colored or scented cleaning products
  • Pills that look like candy
  • Toys that have small parts can be a choking hazard

What You Can Do:

  • Place cleaning products and chemicals on a high shelf, out of reach of small children.
  • Store all medications in a locked place, such as a lockbox or a locked cabinet.
  • Do not leave medications out on the counter where children may easily reach them.
  • Follow instructions from your doctor or pharmacist to dispose of expired or unused medications

Preschool Children – Drowning

Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in U.S. children ages 1 to 4 years. Drowning can be fast and silent. Children can drown in less than 1 inch of water and can occur in bathtubs and toilets, buckets of water, swimming pools and natural bodies of water.

What You Can Do:

  • Use childproof doorknob covers and toilet locks to keep unsupervised young children out of the bathroom.
  • Empty buckets, inflatable pools, and bathtubs immediately after using them.
  • Ensure that all children wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket while boating or around natural bodies of water.
  • Enroll children in swim lessons from an early age to learn water safety skills.
  • If you have a pool, install a fence that is at least 4 feet tall and surrounds the pool on all four sides. Use self-closing and self-latching gates to keep young children from entering the pool area unattended.

Older Children – Firearms

Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of injury-related death among U.S. children. Young children are curious and cannot truly understand how dangerous guns are (even if you have talked to them about gun safety). If your child comes across a loaded gun, he or she can be accidentally hurt or killed, or may hurt or kill others. Teens can be impulsive and may act without thinking.

What You Can Do:

  • Keep all guns locked, either with a gun lock or a gun safe.
  • Store guns unloaded and away from ammunition.
  • If anyone in the house is undergoing treatment for mental health disorders such as depression or suicidal thoughts, remove all firearms from the house for his/her safety.

Adolescents – Motor Vehicle Safety

Motor vehicle collisions are the number one killer of older children and teens. Learning to drive is an exciting time, but inexperience and distractions can put teens at risk.

What You Can Do:

  • Properly restrain children in the correct car seat, booster seat or seat belt, depending on their age.
  • Discuss car seat safety with your pediatrician, and make sure you learn how to properly install your car seat in your vehicle.
  • Do not allow children under age 12 to sit in the front seat of the vehicle.
  • Teach teenagers to obey traffic lights and street signs, drive the speed limit and wear a seat belt.
  • Remind teenagers not to talk on the phone or text while driving.
  • Model good behavior: always wear your own seatbelt while in a vehicle, and check to be sure that your children are wearing theirs.
  • ATVs should only be used while wearing a helmet and following the safety instructions from the manufacturer. Never let a child under 16 ride an adult-sized ATV, and never allow more riders than the
  • ATV was designed to carry.

All Ages –  Fire Safety

More than 60 percent of all house fires occur in homes without working smoke detectors. It is important to install smoke detectors on each floor of your home. Test smoke detectors frequently.

What You Can Do:

  • Change the batteries of your smoke detectors and check that they work every 6 months.
  • Have an escape plan from the home in the event of a fire, and practice with your family.
  • Place fire extinguishers in the kitchen, basement and garage.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.
  • Teach children what to do in the event of fire: stop, drop, and roll.
  • Make sure space heaters do not come in contact with clothing or other flammable materials. Do not keep space heaters in bedrooms.

All Ages – Motor Vehicle Safety

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 19 and under, and more than half of car seats are not used or installed correctly.

What You Can Do:

  • Properly restrain children in the correct car seat, booster seat or seat belt, depending on their age.
  • Discuss car seat safety with your pediatrician, and make sure you learn how to properly install your car seat in your vehicle.

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