Advice from Seattle Children’s On the Pulse blog
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and kids are spending more time outdoors. It is spring time – a season for hiking, grilling, gardening and outdoor fun. But with spring also comes the occasional bump, bruise, bite, rash and fall. How can parents help their kids avoid injury?
Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of the division of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, offers advice for keeping kids healthy and out of the emergency room.
The hazards that come with spring
Many common spring injuries can be prevented by taking just a few moments to focus on safety. Woodward reminds parents, “the first thing for everything is supervision.”
With warmer weather comes more open windows, and with more open windows comes more danger. According to Consumer Reports, each year more than 5,200 children fall from windows, and at least one in four is injured badly enough to be hospitalized. Young children four years old and younger are at a greater risk for window falls and are more likely to sustain serious injuries or die, according to the Journal of Pediatrics. To prevent window falls, move furniture away from windows, install window guards or stops and don’t rely on window screens. Keep in mind, Woodward says, kids can fall from windows open as little as five inches.
“Families look at screens as a barrier,” says Woodward, “but screens aren’t a barrier for kids. Many times, the screens are improperly installed or loose, causing children to fall through, sometimes causing serious injury.” Screens keep bugs out, but they don’t keep children in.
Keep a close eye on small children and keep windows latched. Learn more by watching this short video.
Spring cleaning and gardening
It’s time to dust off the cobwebs and get the yard in shape, but be cautious of hidden dangers in cleaning and gardening products.
“Poisoning is a concern throughout the year, but in spring we see products that were hidden away become more easily accessible to children,” Woodward says.” Fertilizers or poisons for outdoor use that were once stored deep in the garage or house come out in spring,” says Woodward.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), approximately 2.4 million people – more than half under age 6 – swallow or have contact with a poisonous substance each year.
“Children may think a poison is ingestible, especially if a parent has placed excess cleaner or poison in a bottle that resembles a drinking bottle,” says Woodward. Even a small amount of poison is enough to harm a child. “A swallow or two, the amount of a teaspoon, is enough to cause serious damage, “says Woodward.
His advice to parents is to store all cleaning and gardening products in their original containers, up and out of the reach of children. Trade in heavy-duty cleaning products for non-toxic cleaners, and make sure your child doesn’t get near the poisons you’re using while you’re in the middle of a project. Lastly, post the Poison Center phone number by each phone in your home, and program it into your cell phones: 1-800-222-1222.
Before lighting up the grill this spring, think safety first. “The best thing for a parent to do is get down on your hands and knees and access potential dangers,” Woodward recommends.” Put yourself in the position of a small child. If you see something that looks like it may be enticing around the grill or in the backyard ask yourself, could this be a danger to my child’s safety?“
Keep kids away from grills, and establish a safety zone, making sure the zone is at least 10 feet away from the grill. By taking this safety measure, parents can reduce the risk of a child touching the grill and severely burning themselves.
Always have kids wear shoes around the grill. The charcoal from a grill, which can be very hot, can come out the bottom, increasing the likelihood of a child getting burned. Also, sharp utensils used for grilling may fall on the ground. Wearing proper footwear can reduce the risk of puncture wounds.
Each year many children are severely injured by lawnmowers, according to the AAP. However, most of these injuries can be prevented. The AAP recommends not letting children under 12 use a walk-behind mower and not allowing children under 16 to use a riding lawnmower. Never let a child use a lawnmower without proper shoes – boots or closed-toe shoes. Safety goggles or glasses with side shields will keep their eyes protected. Also, make sure lawnmowers have an automatic shut-off mechanism.
Before mowing, pick up any items in the lawn that could be potential safety hazards. Woodward says rocks and nails hidden in the grass can become fast-moving projectiles that could harm a child.
Be aware of your surroundings while mowing. “You can’t see 360 degrees around you,” says Woodward. Make sure small children are indoors when operating a lawnmower to reduce the risk of injury.
As fun as trampolines can be, they can also be extremely dangerous. Thousands of children are injured on trampolines each year. “Trampolines are more dangerous the more people there are on them,” says Woodward.
The AAP advises against trampolines for home use, but offers the following precautions if families do choose to have a home trampoline:
- Insist on adult supervision at all times
- Allow only one jumper on the trampoline at a time
- Do not allow flips or somersaults
- Check for adequate protective padding on the trampoline and make sure it is in good condition and appropriately placed
- Check all equipment often and repair or replace parts immediately when needed.
Beautiful landscapes, warm weather and sunnier days make hikes a popular spring time activity. But before hitting the trail, make sure your family is properly prepared. Remember to wear appropriate footwear and clothing, and pack extra water. Also, don’t forget sunscreen, insect repellant and a first aid kit. Plan ahead and keep in mind the dangers of the outdoors: bug bites and stings, plants that may cause rashes and allergic reactions and exposure to sun, heat, wind, water or cold.
Woodward says winter run-off and eroded rock are two of the major causes of hiking-related injuries and fatalities each spring. “A stream that you may have been able to walk across in August may be twice as deep in April, May or June,” says Woodward. “In spring, streams are higher, faster and colder. Keep children away from running water.”
“In a wet environment, boulders and rocks may become loose,” Woodward says. ”I’ve seen instances where kids were climbing on rocks and they’ve become dislodged and pinned a child, resulting in death. Things that were stable in the past can become unstable with water erosion.”
Urgent care or emergency department?
Unfortunately, accidents do happen, sometimes at inconvenient times when primary providers aren’t available. When your child or teen needs immediate medical care for serious injuries, parents have many options available for care.
If your child gets hurt or sick this spring, Woodward recommends that you assess the severity of the injury or illness to determine whether a trip to an urgent care clinic is more appropriate for your child. For a quick guide, refer to this helpful chart.
“In general, if you’re worried about altered mental status, disfigurement, large lacerations, concussions or loss of consciousness, a child should be taken to the ED,” says Woodward. If a child becomes injured, Woodward advises parents to take a deep breath, first and foremost. “We don’t want two patients instead of one,” says Woodward. Parents should calmly asses the situation and act in the best interest of their child.
Remember, if your child’s illness or injury is life threatening, call 911.
In 2012, the Emergency Medicine team at Seattle Children’s saw over 36,000 patients. Hopefully, your child never has to visit the Emergency Department, but just in case, Seattle Children’s new Emergency department, opening April 23, will be able to meet the needs of any child, no matter the injury.