Most accidents that put children in the emergency room during the summer and festive season are preventable, says leading paediatrician and Paed-IQ BabyLine CEO Dr Iqbal Karbanee.
“Unfortunately, many common and fun family activities during the summer months can quickly take a turn for the worst and end in injury. Others can have lasting and traumatic consequences for families,” says Karbanee.
Examples of such activities include a trip to the beach or the local swimming pool (drowning), a home-based braai where there is a wood fire or paraffin burner that can fall over and cause a fire (burn wounds), or even bicycle or scooter rides (traffic accidents).
The ChildSafe Initiative in South Africa suggests that 80% of child injuries occur in or around the home and while many children are hospitalised, hundreds more end up visiting the emergency room and thousands more go to clinics and doctors.
Karbanee says that it is difficult to count the cost of treating preventable accidents in children, whether as once-off hospital visits or the longer-term costs of prolonged treatment and rehabilitation. It can cost up to as R500,000 when skin grafting or plastic surgery is required, which can be as a result of a burn.
The Child Gauge Report 2019 suggests that more than 8,000 children die every year as a result of injuries. About 5,000 of these are accidental or unintentional, with leading causes being road traffic injuries, burns and drownings. Globally, it is estimated that one million families lose a child to a preventable injury every year.
“Reducing the number of preventable accidents is therefore a healthcare priority that should be observed by all parents and caregivers, especially during the summer months,” says Karbanee.
Below Karbanee discusses the top summer risks that are preventable and how parents can keep their children safe.
1. Trampolines are great ways for kids to use up excess energy, but they are simply too dangerous. Children’s bones are still developing and experiencing an injury whether through a broken or fractured bone can set them back developmentally. Serious injuries related to the brain or spine can occur. If you are gifting your child or children a trampoline over the festive season, or if you already have a trampoline at home, there are ways you can lessen the risks associated with the equipment. Always make sure there is adult supervision and only one child at a time should be on the trampoline. No children under the age of six should be allowed to jump and it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that strict rules are enforced.
2. Shopping centres, amusement parks or even the beach are fun outings for families to enjoy. However, it can be easy for a parent to be separated from a child especially if these places are busy. Make sure you and your child have a plan should they become separated from you and how they can look for help. Older children should be able to memorise your cell number.
3. Drownings are known as silent killers because children are unable to shout for help and they are amongst the most common preventable accidents that can happen in seconds. A drowning can happen in a few centimetres of water. Life jackets are a must if you want to boat, canoe, jet ski, SUP with your kids or even just spend time near a body of water. Never leave a child unattended near water and consider hiring a lifeguard to keep watch over the kids in the pool if you are having a gathering or party with several children in attendance.
4. Dog bites are a major cause of preventable traumatic injury in children. Too often what starts as a peaceful or exciting family day out turns into a horror story involving a dog attack, with the victims mostly being children who can sustain severe injuries. Teach your children to not go near a dog who is off leash or without a muzzle, and to not put their face close to the dog’s, even if it is a trusted family pet. If the dog runs up to the child or a family on the beach or elsewhere, children should not reach out to pat the dog, even if it looks cute.
5. Wood fires are common in South Africa during summer. They are dangerous to children if unattended, as children are naturally curious and may want to see what happens when they throw things in the fire. The smoke also poses a danger to young respiratory systems as they are still developing, even more so if the children suffer from asthma or allergies. Put fireplace tools and accessories out of a young child’s reach and keep a fire extinguisher on hand. It may seem obvious, but never leave children unsupervised with candles, paraffin burners or outdoor wood fires. Always ensure children are in the company of trustworthy responsible caregivers and ensure paraffin stoves are out of reach and on safe work areas. If an accident does happen, never apply any butter or other food onto a burn.
6. Playgrounds and parks are good to get kids to play outdoors, but be careful of hot slides and poorly maintained equipment that may have rusty nails or sharp hooks. Hot equipment can burn bodies and sharp objects can tear skin, which may require tetanus shots. Also remember to put sunscreen on your child of no less than SPF 50 when spending time outdoors. The CANSA association of South Africa suggests that exposure to UV radiation received as a child increases the risk of melanoma later in life.
7. Bikes, scooters, skateboards and other wheelie toys are fun for children but should not used near moving traffic. Traffic-related accidents are amongst the highest preventable accidents for children. Protective gear like helmets or shin or knee pads can go a long way in preventing injuries, whether only scrapes and bruises or more severe. If you live in a neighbourhood that does not have a bike line where kids are less at risk, then make the effort to go to a public park or elsewhere so that children are not exposed to unnecessary danger from moving vehicles.
“And if the worst happens, you don’t know what to do and you are struggling to assess whether a doctor’s visit or a trip to the emergency room is indeed necessary, it may be a good idea to make use of a telephonic advice service with trained nurses that can quickly and cheaply help you assess the severity of the situation,” concludes Karbanee.