August 22nd, 2011
12:01 AM ET
The number of children treated in U.S. emergency departments for falls from windows approached 100,000 between 1990 and 2008, says a study in the journal Pediatrics. The research shows that the number of injuries declined during the first decade of the study period, but has since plateaued.
"We still are seeing over 5,000 children a year treated in hospital emergency departments across the country for injuries related to window falls, said Dr. Gary A. Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "That's 14 children a day. This continues to be a very common, important problem."
Researchers studied data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, maintained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The group monitors injuries involving consumer products, treated in emergency departments nationwide. Researchers divided data from almost 4,000 patients into two groups: 0-4 years and 5-17 years.
Boys were involved in more falls from windows than girls were. In addition, the younger children made up two-thirds of the injuries. The injury rate was highest at age 2.
"These are kids who don't recognize danger – they're curious, they want to explore and when they see an open window, they are going to investigate," Smith said. "Kids at that age tend to be top heavy. Their center of gravity is up near their chest and so as they lean out of the window to see what's going on, they'll topple."
Many of the young children experienced injuries to their head or face, and, often times, these led to hospitalization or death. On the other hand, children in the older group were more likely to have fractures to their arms or legs.
While a few children did fall from a third story or higher, many more fell from a first- or second-story window.
"What we're finding is that most of these aren't these really high-rise buildings," Smith added. "These are just often homes or apartments that aren't high-rise, where children live. This is a problem that extends to small towns and even rural areas across the country."
He reinforces the message that a screen does not offer protection and should give parents no feeling of comfort.
Smith, who is a pediatric emergency medicine physician, offers the following advice for parents.
Parents of children younger than 5:
Parents of children older than 5:
The authors also note that the landing surface made a difference. The patients who ended up on a cushioned surface often fared better than those who ended up on a hard surface.
"Our focus should be on preventing the child from falling in the first place, but cushioning the fall can help," Smith noted.
"If a child falls from a window and they land on bushes or a planted flower bed, that often is enough to cushion the fall so that they'll end up with bruises or scrapes instead of a severe injury," he said.
The study points out that great reductions were seen in New York and Boston after programs were implemented there to combat the problem. The programs involved education in the community and among parents. Window guards were also made available. In New York City, window guards became mandatory in apartments where young children lived.
"We know what works," Smith said. "We need to now go out and implement that."
Smith said there were limitations with the set of data, especially with fatality numbers, and therefore these numbers under represent the problem.
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