An injured child is brought into an emergency room every four seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every hour, a child dies from an injury. And 1 in every 5 childhood deaths is the result of an injury. Given how accident-prone children can be, what are the best ways to keep them safe?
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Most Common Childhood Injuries
Millions of injured children are brought into emergency departments each year. And despite declines in the unintentional injury death rate over the last decade, injury is still the leading cause of death among children and teens ages 1-14.
Some of the most common childhood injuries are the result of falls. A fall can occur due to hazards like stairs, wet bathtubs, windows, beds without safety railings, baby walking toys, and raised landings. Babies and toddlers are the most at risk of experiencing a fall.
Children also get hurt walking into furniture, getting hit by a ball or from another sports-related injury, and getting struck or pinned down by a falling object, such as furniture or household appliances. Children between the ages of 0 and 14 are the most at risk for this type of injury.
Every hour, ERs treat almost 150 children injured in motor vehicle collisions. Among children, teenagers between 16 and 19 are the most at risk of being involved in motor vehicle collisions, and they are at greater risk when they are driving with one another.
Submersion in water is another cause of injury and can leave some children permanently disabled. Young children, particularly those between the ages of 1 and 4, can drown in just 1 inch of water.
Infants younger than 1 are also injured through suffocation or strangulation. Common causes of these injuries include choking on food, unsafe sleep habits, and improper use of devices for children.
Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are at risk of injuries from pokes and cuts, while children between the ages of 0 and 9 are most likely to be bitten by insects, dogs, other animals, and even people.
Curious children get objects stuck in their bodies, such as splinters in their fingers and objects lodged in their throats or noses. Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are at increased risk of foreign body injuries, especially when eating or playing.
Children also sustain burn injuries, such as sunburns, carpet burns, frostbite, and burns from grabbing hot tools or cooking implements. Young children are more likely to be burned by liquid or steam, whereas older children are more likely to be burned by fire.
At-Home Injury Prevention
Many childhood injuries are the result of accidents at home. However, parents and guardians can take steps to prevent children from being injured.
The first step is to take stock of potential dangers and take actions to mitigate them. Be mindful of where sharp kitchen tools are stored and keep hazardous cleaning supplies in clearly labeled containers and out of reach. Install baby gates, anchor heavy furniture to the wall, and put guards on sharp corners. Be sure to cover electrical outlets, keep firearms locked up and unloaded, store batteries and magnets out of reach, and put childproof caps on medicine.
Parents and guardians also need to be mindful of water risks. Don’t leave children alone around water, quickly clean up spills in bathrooms and the kitchen, and install fences at least 4 feet high around pools.
When transporting children in cars, ensure children 2 years old and younger are properly strapped into rear-facing car seats. Children older than 2 need to sit in forward-facing car seats, followed by booster seats, for their safety. Keep children out of the front seat until they’re teenagers, and never leave children in hot cars.
Parents also need to recognize the risks posed by childrens’ toys. It’s important to read safety labels on toys and adjust their usage accordingly. Parents should also avoid giving children plastic toy weapons with foam darts and any toys with a warning label for potential serious injury.
Children want to learn, so explaining the risks associated with certain actions can help them avoid injury. Parents should help children learn by explaining how accidents happen and use injuries as an opportunity to talk about how to prevent future occurrences.
However, accidents are sometimes unavoidable and result in injuries to children. To be prepared, parents and guardians should stock first aid kits with mild soap, antibiotic ointment, and bandages for cuts and scrapes. First aid kits should also include a sterilized needle, rubbing alcohol, and tweezers for splinters; a cold pack and wet cloth for bruises; ice and a bandage to wrap sprained ankles; and acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain.
When Childhood Injuries Require Professional Help
Not every accident can be prevented and not every injury can be treated at home. It’s crucial for parents and guardians to understand when professional help is needed.
If a child ingests poison or a household chemical, it’s important to call poison control immediately. Parents and guardians should also seek emergency care if a child has trouble breathing, worsening bleeding, severe swelling, loss of consciousness, memory loss, or a wild animal or venomous bite.
Emergency care is also necessary if a child experiences severe abdominal pain, a broken bone, an eye injury, numbness, tingling, or an inability to move an injured body part. An unhealthy pale appearance, a weak or undetectable pulse, and any burns on the face, ears, hands, feet, or genitalia are additional emergencies that require immediate medical attention.
Any child under 2 who falls at least 3 feet and any child over 2 who falls at least 5 feet should be taken to the ER. If the soft spot (fontanel) on an infant’s head protrudes or if a child exhibits signs of a concussion — such as unusual crankiness, vomiting, not walking normally, or slurred speech — the child needs immediate medical treatment.
Some situations don’t necessarily require urgent care, but should be brought up with a pediatrician. These include dog and cat bites, expanding or worsening rashes, infected scratches or cuts, and sunburns resulting in blisters, fever, vomiting, or energy decline.
Accidents involving the mouth and teeth should be treated on a case-by-case basis. For baby teeth, access care within 24 hours. For adult teeth, access care immediately. Parents should rinse the tooth with salt water or warm milk, avoid touching the roots of the teeth so they don’t damage the nerves, and carry the tooth in a dampened paper towel.
Responding to Childhood Injuries
Growing, curious children inevitably experience accidents and hurt themselves. As a general rule, if a child’s injury isn’t getting better at home, they should be checked out by a health care provider. But that doesn’t mean children should be rushed to the doctor after every accident. A lot can be done at home to treat and prevent common childhood injuries.
America’s Health Rankings, Health of Women and Children
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child Injury
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, “Common Infant and Toddler Injuries: When to Seek Medical Attention”
Dignity Health, “How to Know When a Child Injury Requires Medical Attention”
Health Hub, “Common Childhood Injuries and Childhood Injury Prevention”
HealthPartners, “7 of the Most Common Childhood Injuries and Accidents (and When Specialized Emergency Care May Be Needed)”
National Institute of Health, What Causes Pediatric Injury?
Prisma Health, “10 Most Common Injuries in Children”
Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, Accident Statistics
Swartz & Swartz, “The Most Common Childhood Injuries from Toys”