When the weather gets warmer, hospital emergency rooms get busier. One problem doctors see more of in the spring is children sustaining injuries after falling from open windows.
While trauma experts have long looked at window falls as a problem in urban areas, where there are more high-rise apartments, doctors at Inova Fairfax Hospital say children and open windows are a dangerous combination, even in the suburbs.
“We have found an increase in the number of falls in the last several years,” says Dr. Ronnie Benoit, assistant chief of pediatric trauma at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. “In our hospital, we treated 10 or 11 children with these injuries in 1991. In 1998, we treated 20 children. In 1999, we treated 16, one of whom died from his injuries.
“Nationally, we looked at where people fell,” Dr. Benoit says. “More than one-third fall from single-family homes. Only about 6 percent of these injuries occur in a high-rise.”
Nationwide, an estimated 4,700 children younger than 14 fall from windows and are treated in hospital emergency rooms annually, says Angela Mickalide, program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign, Last year, 18 children died from their injuries, she says.
Peak time for window fall injuries is April and May, when many people open their windows to enjoy spring temperatures.
Earlier this month, an Anne Arundel County boy, age 3, suffered a fractured skull when he ran into a screened second-floor window and fell to the concrete below.
Dr. Benoit has started a public-service campaign called “Kids Can’t Fly,” aimed at educating people about the dangers of children falling from windows. The majority of injuries of this type are to boys younger than 4, who are naturally curious and might play by a window or with the window.
“The typical kid we see is a toddling boy,” Dr. Benoit says. “Most do OK and go home, but 40 percent are admitted to the intensive care unit. Four out of 100 die, usually because of head injuries suffered when they fell on concrete.”
There are steps that families can take to prevent injuries, he says. Prevention begins with a quick look around the room.
“Everyone knows about gates and safety latches” in the rest of the house, he says. “Yet a lot of people have dressers and beds near windows.”
Dr. Benoit advises moving furniture away from windows and educating children that screens keep bugs out, not people in.
“I think the biggest misperception that families have is that screens on windows will keep kids from falling out,” Ms. Mickalide says.
Many child-safety catalogs and stores sell window guards and window stop devices to further childproof upper-level windows. In New York City, it is a law that protective window devices be installed in any apartment building in which children younger than 10 live.
“The main thing is education,” Dr. Benoit says. “Keeping children and things away from the windows makes all the difference. It is really important to monitor your children.”
In the suburbs, homeowners do have an advantage of being able to plant shrubs and grass around the house. Those landscaping features can save a life if they break the fall of a child falling from a second-story window, he says.