March 12, 2012 -- Every six minutes a young child in the U.S. is treated in the emergency room for a stair-related injury, according to a new study.
Overall, researchers say an average of more than 93,000 children under the age of 5 were treated for stair-related injuries in an emergency room each year between 1999 and 2008. But the number of injuries decreased by about 12% during that time.
Researchers found that the number of young children who were injured while being carried on the stairs accounts for about a quarter of injuries among children under age 1. These children are also more than three times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of their injuries than children who were injured in other ways.
“Stair-related injuries are on the decline but still represent an important source of injury to young children,” write researcher Ashley Zielinsky of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues in Pediatrics. “Increased prevention efforts are needed, including parental education and improved stairway design.”
Stair Safety Still an Issue
In the study, researchers analyzed information from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the Consumer Product Safety Commission from 1999 to 2008.
The results showed an estimated 931,886 children under the age of 5 were treated for stair-related injuries in U.S. emergency rooms during the study period.
Most of the injuries occurred as a result of the child falling down the stairs on his or her own. But 25% of children under age 1 were injured while they were carried on the stairs, and 16% fell in a baby walker.
The majority of injuries were bruises and other soft tissue injuries, which accounted for 35% of injuries. About three-fourths of the children had injuries to the head and neck area, and nearly 3% were hospitalized as the result of their injuries.
In addition, an estimated10,000-plus injuries were reported when children fell down the stairs in a stroller or carriage. In many cases, the child was strapped in, but it was not enough to prevent injuries.
Stair Gates Not Enough
Researchers say stair gates are an important way to prevent children from using the stairs unsupervised, but parents should not rely on them exclusively.
Although stair gates can greatly reduce the likelihood of falling down the stairs, researchers say parents should be aware that stair gates are not a substitute for proper adult supervision.
In many cases, the study showed the gates were often removed by another member of the household, or the young child was able to knock down or climb over the gate.
Other ways to improve child stair safety include:
- Keep stairs well-maintained and free of objects.
- Parents and caregivers should minimize the use of stairs while carrying a child.
- Do not carry other items in addition to a child while using stairs. The free hand should be placed on the handrail.
- Avoid using stairs when transporting a child in a stroller or baby carriage. Use an elevator or carry the child instead.
- Install built-in, wall-mounted stair gates that are always in place.