Loyola Physicians Offer Toy Safety Tips for Christmas

MAYWOOD, Ill. – The right toy can make the Christmas season the most wonderful time of the year for children and their parents.

But the wrong toy can make this season a time of pain, grief and regret for families with children who suffer severe injuries or death from toys they never should have been given in the first place, according to medical experts at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.

“Sometimes the toys children want and what their parents give them are not the best choice for them in terms of safety,” said Dr. Thomas Esposito, a trauma surgeon at Loyola. “Many toys are not appropriate for a child’s age and can cause choking, severe injuries, poisonings and even fatalities.”

The number of toy-related injuries involving children has risen each year since 2005 when 202,300 injuries were recorded, according to a recent report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The report found that in 2009 a total of 250,100 children were treated for toy-related injuries at emergency departments in the United States.

Also, 12 children younger than age 15 died that year in toy-related incidents. Most of the injuries were from lacerations, contusions and abrasions to the face and head. Most of the deaths were caused by small balls and choking episodes related to balloons and severe injuries from riding toys such as tricycles and non-motorized scooters.

“No matter the season – winter, spring, summer or fall – injuries and deaths such as those related to the choice of the wrong toy aren’t accidental. They are really risks that are unrecognized, unheeded and poorly managed,” Esposito said.

To lower the risk of toy-related injuries, parents should become informed consumers and label readers before shopping for toys. Consumer Web sites and package labeling contain the manufacturer’s recommendations and other important information. Instructions should be clear and easy to follow.

“Children less than 8 years old should never be given toys with sharp points and edges, that have batteries that can be swallowed or that have heating elements that can cause severe burns,” Esposito said. “Parents with infants, toddlers and children who still tend to place objects in their mouth shouldn’t even consider buying toys that contain small parts that can cause choking.”

Beyond reading the label, parents should give any toy they are thinking of buying a thorough inspection, Esposito said. Take the toy out of the box and examine it to make sure its construction is sturdy. Twist and pull small parts to make sure they are securely attached.

“It’s a good idea to open up any drawers on the toy and search inside for hidden objects that could pose a choking hazard. Immediately discard the plastic wrappings, which can cause suffocation or choking,” added Dr. Mark Cichon, director of Emergency Medical Services at Loyola.

Children younger than 8 should also never be given toys that contain tiny magnets, such as building sets and magnetic dart boards, said Dr. James Berman, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Loyola. The magnets can be easily dislodged and swallowed by children.

“This is a significant hazard. I recently removed a disk battery from a child. In many instances parents may not know that their child has swallowed a magnet until it is too late,” said Berman, who has treated a number of other children who have ingested magnets. “The symptoms may initially appear mild, mimicking a tummy ache for instance. However, if not treated quickly, magnets can cause tears in the intestines. Children have become seriously ill from magnets and some have died.”

Nothing is more attractive to children than toys with bright colors. But parents should beware. Brightly colored toys may be covered in lead-based paint. So far this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has ordered the removal of 16 types of toys from store shelves due to high lead levels.

“Children are mostly affected by lead poisoning because of their habit of putting things into their mouths,” said Dr. Christina Hantsch, an emergency medicine specialist and expert in toxicology at Loyola. “Unfortunately, children’s systems easily absorb lead. Lead poisoning can cause long-term mental and physical problems, and in some cases, death.”

For more information and for lists of toys that have been recalled this year, go to www.cpsc.gov or the Illinois Attorney General Web page at http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/safe_shopping.html. For more information on poisoning, go to www.IllinoisPoisonCenter.org or call your local poison center at (800) 222-1222.

To arrange interviews with Drs. Esposito, Cichon, Berman or Hantsch, call Perry Drake in Loyola Media Relations, (708) 216-7940. Cell: (708) 441-7736.

Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.