5 ways to protect children from window falls at home

The combination of warming weather and children spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompts an important reminder for parents to protect kids from window falls.

In March and April 2020, the CHOC Children’s Trauma Center treated eight patients injured after falling from windows. By comparison, clinicians there treated three patients for window falls during the same time period in 2019.

“Forty-three percent of all trauma cases here at CHOC are related to unintentional falls, and of those, 35 percent were window falls,” says Amy Waunch, CHOC’s trauma program coordinator.

Window screens are no match for even a young child’s weight, and small kids can squeeze through openings as narrow as 4 inches. Any window higher than 6 feet from the ground poses a risk for serious, even fatal injury.

“Boys younger than 5 are at the biggest risk, and the peak age is 24 months,” says Amy Frias, a CHOC community educator and the Orange County coordinator for Safe Kids Worldwide.

With Trauma Injury Awareness Month underway, here are five tips from CHOC experts to help keep kids safe from window falls:

  1. Lock them down— Install removable window locks or guards to limit a window’s opening to no more than 4 inches. Be sure the device can be removed quickly by adults in case of an emergency. Keep windows locked when not in use.
  2. Open windows strategically – If your home has double-hung windows, which open from both the top and bottom, open just the top to prevent falls.
  3. Practice vigilance – If you open windows to let in fresh air, be mindful of closing and locking windows before you leave the room.
  4. Position furniture carefully – Keep beds, bookcases, chairs, play chests and other furniture away from windows so your child isn’t tempted to climb.
  5. Supervise, supervise, supervise – As with all injury prevention efforts, keeping an eye on kids is critical. As children grow, their abilities, strength, dexterity and curiosity grow too – and they may be able to outsmart your best-laid safety plans.

If your child does fall out of a window, call 911 and avoid moving your child. A traumatic injury to the head, neck or spine may not be immediately obvious.

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Home Safety Tips for the Whole Family

Most injuries for kids up to five years old occur in or around the home because that is where they spend the most time learning and growing. Keep in mind these home safety tips to protect kids of all ages in your home. Download this home safety checklist to help make your child’s home safer.

Kids have more freedom as they get older, which teaches them independence and nurtures their curiosity, but they can often overestimate what they’re capable of doing.

“Older children tend to take more risks, so we as parents must walk a fine line between bubble-wrapping our kids and protecting them,” says Amy Frias, community educator at CHOC Children’s and Safe Kids Orange County coordinator.

  • Batteries. Keep batteries and battery-operated devices out of sight and out of reach. If your child ingests a battery, seek emergency medical attention or call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline, 202-625-3333.
  • Burns. Getting kids involved in cooking your family’s meals can be a great way to encourage healthy eating habits later in life, but should be done under careful supervision. Don’t hold a small child when using the stove, and always keep sharp and hot objects out of reach.
  • Carbon monoxide. In addition to a working smoke alarm, ensure your home has a carbon monoxide detector and check its batteries regularly.
  • Choking. Even when kids are old enough to start learning how to use utensils themselves, make sure food is cut into bite-size pieces. When purchasing a toy or game, take into account the size of its pieces. Keep small items such as magnets, makeup or batteries out of reach, as they could be confused for a toy or candy. Cords and strings from window blinds should also be kept out of reach to prevent choking.
  • Falls. Install window locks that prevent openings greater than four inches, yet could still be easily removed by an adult in the event of an emergency. Children under 10 years old should not be on a top bunk of a bunk bed. Use liners underneath rugs and in the bathtub to prevent falls. Secure-top heavy furniture to the wall. Move furniture away from windows to prevent falls.
  • Fire. Make a fire escape plan. Establish a place to meet in the event of a fire in your home, and remind children that getting out safely should be their first priority.
  • Helmets. As younger children spend most of their time at home, that may include riding bikes or scooters in the driveway or neighborhood. Always make sure children wear a properly-fitting helmet. Here’s a helmet safety tip sheet.
  • Medicine. Remind children that medicine is not candy. Medication should be stored out of reach and out of sight, and in a locked location. Keep in mind that medicine is usually stored in more places than just a medicine cabinet, and can usually also be found in a purse, nightstand, etc.

This article was updated on March 30, 2020.

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Are Laundry Packets Really That Dangerous?

A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology stated that an increasing number of toddlers are suffering eye burns as a result of coming into contact with laundry packets. We spoke to Dr. Kenneth Kwon, director of pediatric emergency services at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, about what parents should know about this hidden household danger.

Q: Are laundry packets a serious danger to children? Should parents be concerned?

A:  Yes, they are a serious danger. The colorful and candy-like appearance of these packets makes them particularly attractive and dangerous to children.

Q: There are many products in a typical home that could be harmful if accidentally ingested. Where do laundry packets fall on the scale?

A:  On a scale of 1 to 10, with ingesting cyanide or a poison causing death in minutes considered a ten, the chemicals in these laundry packets would be an 8. Standard liquid household detergents, such as bleach, would be considered a 3 or 4. However, due to the concentrated nature of the chemicals in these laundry packets, they are much more likely to cause serious injury in a very short period of time if ingested. These liquids are alkali in nature and are considered caustic substances, similar to acidic chemicals. The public may be under the misconception that alkali chemicals are less dangerous than acidic chemicals, but when ingested, alkali chemicals tend to cause much deeper and serious injuries to the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract than acidic substances.

Q: Another common injury stemming from laundry packets is eye burns. Why are eyes so susceptible to damage? What treatment can parents do at home?

A:  Eyes are particularly susceptible because children tend to bite into or try to open these packets, and contents can very easily splash into the eyes causing burns to the cornea and surrounding parts of the eye. The cornea, which is the top layer of the eye, has little to no blood supply, which can impair or limit healing, leading to permanent vision problems. The most common symptoms of an eye burn are pain, redness, tearing and vision problems. If you suspect that your child may have an eye burn, irrigate the area under cold running water for at least ten minutes and then take the child immediately to the ED for further irrigation and treatment.

Q: Children often get into laundry packets, or other household chemicals, when left unattended only for a moment. What are the warning signs parents should be aware of that their child has ingested something dangerous?

A:  Commons signs include difficult or painful swallowing, drooling, oral pain, chest or abdominal pain, vomiting, excessive crying, or breathing or speech problems.

Q: How can parents know what to treat at home versus when to seek emergency medical care?

A:  If known or suspected exposure to laundry packets with any symptoms, bring your child immediately to the ED. If the eye is involved, irrigate with running water for at least 10 minutes before transport. Administration of a neutralizing or diluting agent is not recommended for a suspected ingestion. If possible exposure to an opened packet with no symptoms, call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 for further direction.

Q: What can parents do to prevent their children from getting their hands on laundry packets or other chemicals or medication in the home?

A:  The best prevention is elimination of laundry packets from the home. Since there are so many cleaning detergent alternatives available, why even introduce laundry packets into the home at all if you have small children?  If these packets are in the home, make sure to keep them high up in overhead cabinets in the laundry room out of reach of children. Certainly avoid storing these packets in the kitchen or pantry area, as they can easily be mistaken for food or candy. Lastly, periodically check your house to make sure that dangerous medications and chemicals are safely out of reach of toddlers and children. Childproofing the home should occur as regularly as cleaning your home.

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Carbon Monoxide in the Home: What Parents Should Know

Parents understand the importance of having working smoke detectors in the home to protect their family in case of fire, but sometime carbon monoxide detectors fly under the radar, says Amy Frias, a community educator at CHOC Children’s and coordinator of Safe Kids Orange County.

Carbon monoxide is a gas you cannot see, taste or smell, and it can be extremely dangerous to children when they’re exposed to unhealthy levels.

Fuel-powered devices that aren’t properly functioning can emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the home with no warning unless you have a working carbon monoxide detector, says Frias. Faulty furnaces or heaters, portable generators, water heaters, clothes dryers, or cars left running in the garage, can all result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

It’s important for parents to know what can create high levels of carbon dioxide in the home and avoid these activities, says Frias.

  • Don’t use a grill indoors
  • Don’t leave a car running in the garage even if the doors are open
  • Never use the stove or oven to heat your home
  • Ensure vents (stove, furnace, fireplace, stove) are free or debris
  • Store gasoline properly: keep it in a locked location away from children and living spaces, in a well-ventilated area away from any heat sources.

Children process carbon monoxide differently than adults and can experience harsher side effects. Early symptoms include headache, nausea and vomiting. Each year, carbon monoxide exposure results in 15,000 emergency department visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Frias offers tips on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:

  • Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector. Install one on every level of your home, particularly in bedrooms, and keep them 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.
  • Remember that carbon monoxide detectors are not a substitute for smoke detectors.
  • Detectors only detect high levels of carbon monoxide when they are properly functioning. Check the batteries often and replace the unit every five to seven years depending on manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Ensure alarms are linked throughout the home so when one sounds, they all sound.

If you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, or your alarm detects a hazardous level, leave the area immediately and get fresh air, and call 911.

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Keeping Infants and Toddlers Safe in the Home

Children under the age of 5 are at the greatest risk for getting injured at home, says CHOC Children’s community educator Amy Frias.  Of course, the biggest reason is that’s where they spend the majority of their time.  Their curiosity and inability to comprehend danger are additional challenges parents need to consider.

In this CHOC Radio segment, Frias discusses the basics of home safety.  Before bringing a baby home, parents need to ensure the environment is safe.  Don’t wait until the little one starts rolling over or crawling — those milestones arrive quicker than parents think.

Listen to the segment for some helpful tips to keep little ones safe in your home.

CHOC Radio theme music by Pat Jacobs.

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