The staff working in hospital emergency and trauma departments see a lot of injuries come through the doors every day, including those they know could have been avoided.
So what are some unexpected things commonly found in many homes that cause easily preventable injuries? We spoke to a few doctors and a registered nurse to find out.
“You know those heatable soups that come in Styrofoam cups? I’ve seen a huge number of people get burned very badly from opening those,” says Toronto-area emergency room physician, Dr. Brett Belchetz.
The problem with microwavable soups is that the contents can get so “unpredictably hot” that people either get burned by the steam, or they get splash injuries when the steam hits their hand and they drop the soup. That can easily result in second or third degree burns, which would mean a trip to the emergency room for treatment.
Belchetz’s advice? Stick to the regular soup you make on the stove.
Certain types of high chairs
Belchetz also doesn’t like freestanding high chairs that are meant to be pulled up to the side of a dining room table.
The idea is that the chair allows a baby or toddler to be part of the dinner, but he says the problem is that children tend to kick and push against the bottom of the table, which can cause them to topple over backwards.
“That’s a good three foot fall and that’s enough to crack a skull open,” he says. “I have seen quite a few falls from those. I haven’t seen any deaths, but I’ve certainly seen some significant head injuries — fractured skull, concussions.”
While he doesn’t have children, Belchetz says those high chairs are the one thing he would never keep in his own home.
“These things have been on the market for only a very short period of time but I’ve already seen an incredible amount of injuries from them,” says Belchetz. “They have to be one of most unsafe products I have ever seen.”
Belchetz says the problem with hoverboards is they offer no support, yet allow riders to move on them at “a fairly decent rate of speed.” When users fall, they often try to brace themselves with their hands — a sure recipe for a broken wrist and a few cuts and scrapes. And since most riders don’t use helmets, he’s also seen a number of users incur head injuries.
Used-up button batteries
Dr. Blake Papsin, a pediatric otolaryngologist (or ear, nose and throat specialist) at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, says he has seen some devastating injuries caused when little kids swallow button batteries — even dead batteries.
Many of us don’t realize that most devices stop working when there is still three per cent life left in the battery.
“But three per cent is still plenty good to fry living tissue. And that’s what it does,” he says.
If the battery gets stuck in the throat or stomach, the corrosive chemicals that leech out can burn irreparable holes in the esophagus or stomach.
That’s why he says he never leaves used-up batteries in wastebaskets, where small kids might mistake them for candy, and instead takes special care to recycle them carefully.
Unsecured tall furniture
Papsin used to always wonder who used the straps and screws that come with assemble-it-yourself bookcases and furniture.
“I used to see those tethers…and think, ‘Really? I’m not going to put a hole in the wall for this,’” he says. Then he saw the kinds of injuries that can result when children pull bookcases and heavy televisions on themselves.
“They get these tremendous crush injuries,” he says. Most of the time, it’s orthopedic or neurosurgeons who treat these children — if the children survive at all.
“When they break their ear bones, their temporal bone, that’s when I see them,” he says.
But it’s been enough for him to realize the importance of securing large furniture to wall studs.
“I’m now incredibly conscious to affix tall structures to the wall if there’s any chance an inquisitive child might come by,” he says.
Nuts within reach of small children
All parents are warned about keeping small objects away from toddlers, but lately, Papsin says he’s become worried about parents feeding their kids peanuts.
In the last few years, allergy specialists have been advising that, rather than avoiding peanuts, parents should be introducing them early. But he says it’s critical to choose peanut butter, not actual peanuts, because peanuts — and all nuts — are terrible choking hazards.
“Small nuts, peanuts are really potential killers, either slowly with infection from foreign bodies, or with something that gets stuck and kills them right away. So I’m really aware of that now,” Papsin says.
Not only could a nut block an airway, crumbs could be breathed into the airway, where an infection can begin within hours.
“If you get a nut in your lung, you get something called arachidonic bronchitis, where the peanut or nut oils cause inflammation and the lung squeezes around the nut,” he says. That requires hospitalization, but could be easily avoided by keeping nuts away from small children.
“Personally, I refuse to buy one of those,” says registered nurse Mathieu LeBreton, the trauma coordinator at the Ottawa Hospital.
LeBreton says hospitals see a surge of ladder-related injuries every year in early December, involving homeowners trying to string up Christmas lights. There’s another surge again in the spring when people clean out eavestroughs, wash windows or repair roofs.
LeBreton says if he can’t reach something without a stepladder, he doesn’t bother, or he calls in a professional, because he’s seen what can happen in a fall.
“If you’re up 18 or 20 feet, falling from there is not going to be good. Depending on how you land, you can have head injuries, ankle breaks, broken legs — the worst are the head injuries and the long-term issues with cognition, memory and everything there.”
Let the pros do it, he advises, because they know the precautions to take with angles and footing, and they work in teams to spot each other.
LeBreton has seen enough chainsaw injuries to know they are tools that only professionals should use.
“That’s certainly something I don’t have in my house and don’t ever intend on getting,” he says.
“…Chainsaws are extremely unforgiving and you can imagine the injuries you can get with the kickbacks without the proper safety gear.”
Many of those injuries occur in the groin area when users don’t wear chainsaw pants that protect the inner thigh — and in particular, the femoral artery — from lacerations.
“Chainsaws can also kick back into your face but we won’t even talk about the injuries we see with that. I’ve seen a few of those,” he says.
Many people don’t think of rugs as household hazards, but LeBreton says he sees a remarkable number of seniors and those with mobility issues hospitalized from carpet trips.
“Those area rugs, especially when they start flipping up at the corners, you’d be surprised how many injuries they cause and the danger they pose,” he says.
The falls often cause broken hips, which leads to long hospitalizations and surgeries. For a frail senior, that one fall can be devastating, leaving them with more mobility problems than ever.
LeBreton recommends area rugs be yanked from the homes of all seniors and replaced with either wall-to-wall carpeting or bare floors.