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 injuries or death from toys they never should have been given in the first place, according to medical experts at Loyola University Health System.
"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, professor of surgery and chief of the division of trauma, surgical critical care and burns in the department of surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "Many toys are not appropriate for a child's age and can cause choking, severe injuries, poisonings and sometimes even fatalities."
In 2008, a total of 235,300 toy-related injuries involving all ages were treated at emergency departments in the United States, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). That same year, 19 children younger than age 15 died 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 accidents 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 such risks, when shopping for toys parents should first become informed consumers and readers of labels. 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 that have sharp points and edges, have batteries that can be swallowed or that have heating elements that can cause severe burns," Esposito said. "Parents with infants, toddlers and children that still mouth objects shouldn't even dream of buying toys that contain small parts that can cause choking."
Beyond reading the label, parents should give any potential toy purchase 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, associate professor, pediatric gastroenterology, Stritch School of Medicine. The magnets can be easily dislodged from the toy and swallowed by children.
"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 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 colorings. But parents should beware. Brightly colored toys can pose a dangerous health risk to children from exposure to lead-based paint. So far in 2009, the CSPC has ordered the removal of 14 types of toys from store shelves in the U.S. due to high lead counts.
"Children are mostly affected by lead poisoning because of their habit of putting things into their mouths," said Dr. Christina Hantsch, associate professor and director of the section of toxicology, division of emergency medicine, Stritch School of Medicine. "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 in 2009, 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.