(RxWiki News) Many parents safeguard their home when they are expecting their first child. But one item meant to keep children safe may also cause them harm.
In a recent study, baby or stair gates were associated with many more injuries than they were in 1996.
The researchers found that children under 2 years of age were most often hurt by falling down the stairs after the gate collapsed or was accidentally left open. Those older than 2 more were more commonly injured by contact with the gate, such as trying to climb over it.
"Be sure to install baby gates properly."
This research was conducted by Lara McKenzie, PhD, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues.
Dr. McKenzie and team used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The NEISS has data on children with sports-related and consumer product–related injuries treated in a network of approximately 100 hospital emergency rooms.
The investigators used data from the beginning of 1990 through the end of 2010. In that time period, there were about 37,673 children 6 years old or younger who had injuries related to the use of gates. That amount accounts for an average of 1,794 injuries per year, or about five injured children per day.
The incidence of gate-related injuries rose significantly over the years. In 1996, there were 3.9 such injuries per 100,000 children; a number that rose to 12.5 injuries per 100,000 children by 2010.
The researchers reviewed 1,188 cases. They found that children 2 years of age and younger were most often hurt by falling down the stairs, often when the gate collapsed or was left open. The most commonly injured body part was the head (35.3 percent).
Among children aged 2 to 6, their injuries were usually sustained by contact with the gate, often resulting in open wounds/cuts (55.4 percent) and soft-tissue injuries (24.2 percent). These children most often hurt their upper extremities or lower extremities.
The authors of this study strongly recommended the removal of gates when a child reaches the age of 2. However, by this time, many families may have other younger children. The authors suggested that these families find gate designs that eliminate structures that can be used as a climbing grip or step.
The investigators noted that their estimate of the prevalence of injuries was probably low because they looked only at situations in which children were brought to the emergency room after they were hurt. Many children are probably treated at other venues, such as clinics.
There are currently no federally mandated regulations for gate design in the United States.
"[O]ur results identified a need for further advances in gate design to limit children’s ability to climb gates, to prevent gates from collapsing, and to better cushion children when they fall on gates, thereby decreasing gate-related injuries," the study's authors concluded.
In a press release, Dr. McKenzie recommended that pressure-mounted gates be used as room dividers or at the bottom of stairs but not at the top. Those kinds of gates are not designed to withstand much force, she explained. She added that gates at the top of the stairs are different. For the top of stairs, only gates that have hardware, which needs to be screwed into the wall or railing, will be strong enough to prevent a child from falling.
This study appeared in the May-June issue of Academic Pediatrics.
The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.