The number one cause of death in American kids is unintentional injuries, including drowning, falls and poisoning. On average, 12,175 children ages 0 to 19 die every year in the U.S. from an unintentional injury. To make matters worse, another 9.2 million go to emergency rooms and centers for nonfatal injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While you probably can’t be with your child all day, every day, there are some ways you can prepare your child for an emergency and prevent injuries from occurring.
Sports medicine specialist Jon Schultz, MD, of Overland Park Regional Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri discusses some of the most common injuries among infants, toddlers, school-aged kids and teens, plus how you can protect your child.
Over 300 kids age 19 and under are treated in emergency rooms every day for burn-related injuries. Of those, unfortunately, two of them will have injuries that prove to be fatal.
Young children are more prone to scald burns, or burns related to hot liquids and steam, while older children are prone to burns related to fire.
Here are some fire-safety tips:
- Practice safe kitchen habits: It’s best to keep kids away from stoves, ovens and microwaves, especially when you’re not supervising them.
- Take a look at your water heater settings: Be sure your heater is set somewhere under 120 degrees and periodically check your taps to make sure the water isn’t too hot.
- Set up smoke alarms: Be sure that you have a least one smoke detector, or one near each bedroom that’s properly installed. You’ll want to check them once a month to make sure they’re working.
- Develop an escape plan: In case there is a house fire, make sure your children are involved in your family’s fire escape plan. You’ll want to find two ways out of each room and to establish a meeting place outside in case of an emergency.
Every year, 1.1 to 1.9 million children in the U.S. ages 18 and under get sports or recreation-related concussions. Here are some ways Schultz recommends preventing these types of life-threatening injuries:
- Practice proper technique: If your child plays a sport, make sure they work with a trainer or coach to learn the proper form for things like tackling and heading. “Practicing proper heading technique in sports like soccer can lessen the risk of concussions,” says Dr. Schultz.
- Wear the right gear: Almost all sports require that kids wear some type of protection like shoulder pads or helmets, but it’s important that your child’s gear fits properly. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not going to protect them as well. You may have to replace certain types of gear each season, especially if your child has out-grown it or it’s worn out.
- Be aware of the signs: It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of a concussion, but it may help if you and your child are familiar with common signs. “If an athlete suspects he or she might have a concussion, they should be honest with parents, athletic trainers and coaches in order to prevent a prolonged recovery from a concussion,” says Schultz. Some symptoms may gradually worsen over time and may not show up until days later. Symptoms to watch out for include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble with balance
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
If your child is showing signs, head to the emergency room so a doctor can perform a physical exam and test nervous system functioning. You should also pull your child out of the activity or practice right away.
Water safety is a huge concern for parents. Drowning is a leading cause of injury death for children ages 0 to 14, and three children in the U.S. die every day from drowning. That makes it the most common cause of death, besides birth defects, in children ages 1 to 4.
Beaches, lakes and pools are great places to vacation, but it’s important that your child knows how to swim or wears the right gear if they’re going in. Here are some tips to keep in mind if your child is going to be around water:
- Install a fence: If you have a pool in your backyard, you’ll want to be sure you have a four-sided isolation fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate. The fencing will ensure young children can’t get in when you aren’t supervising.
- Always wear a life jacket: Even if your child knows how to swim, it’s still best to have them wear a life jacket anytime they’re around natural bodies of water.
- Always be on the lookout: Drowning can happen very quickly and quietly. Whether your child is taking a bath, swimming in the pool or taking the boogie board out into the ocean, it’s crucial that you supervise them.
If you think your child is drowning:
- Get them out of the water as soon as you can
- If they’re not breathing, give them CPR immediately and keep going until they are breathing again or until the paramedics arrive
- If there is someone around, have them call 911 or look for medical help; If not, once your child starts breathing again, call 911
Children are prone to eating and drinking everything they see, so it’s no wonder that you’ll have to keep an eye out for medications, household cleaning or laundry products, pesticides, chemicals or makeup that they could get their hands on.
If your child swallows or inhales some type of substance that is poisonous or gets anything poisonous on their skin or in their eyes, make sure to get the item out of your child’s reach. If it’s in their mouth, take it out, but don’t make them vomit, since this can cause more damage. Start CPR or other treatment if appropriate and call 911. You can also call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for further direction.
For irritants on the skin, take off their clothes and rinse the area with room temperature water for 15 minutes or more. If your child has inhaled something poisonous, make sure they start breathing in clean air immediately. It’s always best to follow up with your pediatrician to get advice about next steps.
To prevent your child from getting their hands on harmful substances, keep medications and cleaning supplies up and out of their reach. Lock up cabinets and drawers with child-proof latches to prevent them from getting into harmful substances.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among teens, and even though parents can only control so much, they are an important deterrent to kids making bad decisions in cars, says Schultz. In 2015, six teenagers between the age of 16 and 19 died every day from injuries related to car accidents.
Texting and driving, carrying lots of passengers, speeding, late night driving, drunk driving and inexperience all contribute to car accidents among teens.
Before your teen starts driving, you’ll want to establish clear boundaries. Then, be consistent with discipline. “As parents, we are usually the first and most influential person in teenagers’ lives to affect change,” says Schultz.
Here are some ways you can encourage your child to practice safe driving:
- You’ll want to be sure that you spend enough time in the car with them prior to them getting on the road by themselves. Driver’s education courses are great teaching tools, too. Not sure where to begin? Check out these tips from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Wearing seatbelts is the law, but it’s important that you establish this as a rule when your child starts driving.
- Emphasize that drinking and driving is never acceptable. They should call a parent or car service if they’ve been drinking or are under the influence of any substance.
- Always set a good example. You don’t want your teen to drive under the influence, speed or text while driving, so you’ll want to refrain from doing those things while you’re driving, too.
Breaks, sprains and strains
Kids are adventurous – and it’s highly likely they’re going want to climb trees, run around the neighborhood, play sports and goof around. As parents, you want them to have fun and get some exercise.
High energy levels can often lead to breaks, sprains and strains, but the good news is, they are very treatable (and some are even preventable).
Like concussion prevention, it’s important that your child learn the proper technique when playing sports. Wearing helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads when your child is skateboarding, riding a bike or rollerblading can also help prevent serious injuries.
If you suspect your child has a break, do not move them if the injury is related to the neck or back, and if the bone is protruding, call 911. For breaks to other areas of the body, keep the limb in whatever position you find it in and try to make a splint using anything that can extend around the joints and above the break until you can get to the doctor for an X-ray.
If it’s a strain, avoid applying heat, since that can increase swelling. Typical treatment for a strain or sprain is RICE:
- Rest: Take it easy for 24 to 48 hours or more
- Ice: Apply an ice pack or cold compress for 10 to 15 minutes once every few hours for up to two days
- Compression: Wrap bandage around the area for at least 2 days
- Elevate: Try keeping the injured body part above the heart to prevent swelling