Holiday gift guide: Choosing safe toys for children
(Medical Xpress) -- More than 180,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for toy-related injuries last year. Here, two UNC Health Care experts offer toy-safety tips for the kids in your life.
When children under age three encounter these objects, theyre liable to swallow them.
Theyre using their mouth as much as theyre using their hands to explore, said Adam Zolotor, MD, DrPH, an assistant professor of family medicine at UNC and a faculty member at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center. Also, they dont have judgment.
So if youre selecting a toy for a young child this holiday season, be sure to choose an age-appropriate gift.
The first step, Zolotor said, is to check the packaging guidelines. If a toy isnt recommended for a child younger than three, dont purchase it for an infant or toddler.
If youre not sure whether a toy is too small, try putting it in a toilet paper tube. Any toy that fits in the tube is too small for a child under 3.
Swallowing a toy can be dangerous. Zolotor once treated a child who incurred permanent brain damage after a marble blocked her airway.
Seventeen U.S. children died in 2010 of toy-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. And more than 180,000 children were treated in emergency rooms last year for injuries associated with toys.
Even if a toy isnt immediately life-threatening like a crayon stuck in an ear removing it may require holding down or sedating the child.
Its really traumatic and scary, Zolotor said.
You should also be cautious about buying older toys from second-hand shops.
Check the toys for breakable parts or small pieces that may fall off, such as the eyes or noses of dolls and stuffed animals. If youre purchasing a used electronic toy, ensure that the battery cover is intact and not missing any screws, Zolotor said.
Hand-me-down toys may also contain phthalates, hormone-like chemicals that may cause reproductive problems. The good news is that under a 2008 federal law, U.S. retailers, including thrift-store owners, are banned from selling toys containing phthalates. The same law limited the amount of lead, a heavy metal that can cause brain damage, that is permissible in toys. But retailers are not required to test toys before selling them.
If you dont know when and where a second-hand toy was manufactured, Zolotor said, its probably best avoided.
An older childs toys
During the holiday season and beyond, you should also keep young children away from older siblings toys. That requires constant vigilance a tall order for the parent of active children but limiting your younger childs access to unsafe toys can help.
First, allow older children to play with toys with small parts such as board games only in their own room or in another space where the younger child wont be playing unsupervised, Zolotor said. Use gates or special doors to keep toddlers out of rooms containing unsafe toys.
Danger in the Nativity scene
Remember that your holiday decorations may also pose a safety threat to young children.
Be mindful of small, intricate decorations like Nativity scenes, said Dalton Sawyer, director of emergency preparedness and business continuity planning for UNC Health Care.
Children may not understand that ornaments are not toys, so dont use breakable decorations until they are older. And place burning candles only where children cant reach.
Watch out for holiday plants as well: Mistletoe, holly berries and Christmas cactus are poisonous, and poinsettias may cause an upset stomach.