Avoid the E.R.: Common Childhood Injuries and How to Prevent Them


For a child, the world is his playground. Once a child is mobile on that playground – whether walking, crawling or climbing – watch out, because boo-boo’s are not far behind. Preventing those injuries is no small task. Accidental injury is the leading cause of injury and death among children.  


Contact burns account for about 20 percent of injuries. These can occur when a child plays with matches or a lighter, or reaches out to touch a fireplace or grill. Scald burns are responsible for the majority of burn injuries, approximately 65 percent. These happen when a child comes in contact with a scalding liquid. Hot tap water burns are the cause of more deaths and hospitalizations than from any other hot liquid.
    A toddler can receive a serious burn from hot water heated to 130 degrees in 15 seconds or less. At 140 degrees a burn can occur in just a few seconds. To prevent these type of burns, lower the thermostat setting of your hot water heater to 120-125 degrees. After turning it down, check the temperature 24 hours later to be sure it is low enough to be safe.
    Always check a child’s bath before placing him in the water. The temperature should never be hotter than 100 degrees F. To be safe, run cold water first then add hot water to the desired temperature. This will prevent a burn should the child fall or climb into the tub while the water is running. When checking the water temperature, move your hand through the water for a few seconds – if the water feels hot, it is too hot for your child.


Before a child starts to walk or crawl, many injuries result from falls due to leaving a car seat or bouncy infant carrier on a counter, table or an unstable surface. Other accidents occur when people leave babies on beds or furniture surrounded by pillows, not realizing how quickly a baby can roll or wiggle to the edge and fall off.  
    Dr. Joel Klein is the assistant director of the department of emergency medicine at Baltimore Washington Medical Center. His experience has lead him to observe, “Falls are easily the most common injury we see in younger kids, followed by blunt injuries, like running into a coffee table. Trauma is actually the leading cause of death in children after 1 year of age.”
    Falls on playgrounds are also common. Dr. Klein suggests, “On the playground, make sure your supervise kids closely, ensure they use equipment that’s the right size for their age and in good condition and look for playgrounds with soft groundcover.” Children three to five years old should not play on equipment that is taller than 1.5 meters, or the height of an average woman. Children should always be supervised and parents should be especially close by if they are climbing unfamiliar equipment or trying a new trick.


Poisonings also top the list, though as Dr. Klein states, “Poisonings are far less common than falls but they happen because kids are getting into things and exploring the medicine cabinet.” Medicines, chemical sprays, and household cleaners should be stored in locked cabinets and, when possible, in child-proof containers. Also keep pump action bottles, such as those for soaps and antibacterial lotions, out of reach–young children love to play with things that squirt.
    Never store hazardous liquids in empty soda or juice bottles. For example, sometimes people store old antifreeze in empty soda bottles. Not only could the bottle be appealing to a child, but antifreeze has a very sweet taste; by the time someone realizes what has happened it could be too late.
    There are many other ways small children can get hurt. Fortunately you can apply the same prevention strategy to each. As Dr. Klein states, “Close supervision is important.” While it is exciting to watch your child explore the world around him, “watch” is the key word to keeping him safe while he experiments with his boundless new skills.

Poison Control Resources

The Maryland Poison Center is a free service open 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 1-800-222-1222.  Calling the Poison Center may not only save your child, but may save you a trip to the emergency room. Over 75% of all cases reported to the Maryland Poison Center are managed safely at home. You can also log onto their web site, www.mdpoison.com to request a free Mr. Yuk packet for your home. You should also have your pediatrician and 911 programmed into your cell phone and close to all home phones.  

Joyce Heid is a writer and radiologic technologist with two children.