Stories about: Choking

Potential dangers of last-minute present shopping

The holiday season is in full swing. But even if you’re the proactive type who already has her presents bought, meal planned and cards mailed, it seems like there’s always some last-minute shopping to do. Whether you forgot to get stocking stuffers, a small something for your nephew or your best friend’s new baby, everyone has scrambled for a last-minute present at some point.

In the mad dash to grab those final trinkets, it can be tempting to pick up a toy on the fly at convenient places like the pharmacy, grocery or dollar store. Be careful:  Many of the small and inexpensive toys sold at these locations aren’t the safest. So last-minute shoppers need to pick carefully.

“Generic, off-brand toys might be cheap and easy, but poorly made toys are anything but a good deal for kids,” says Lois Lee, MD, attending physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Department. “Many of these types of toys may have small parts that can break off easily, creating a choking hazard or may contain potentially toxic substances in the paint or plastic.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates many, but not all, toys sold in the U.S. It’s common for off-brand toys to fly under the Commission’s radar. Unregulated toys are at a greater risk of containing choking hazards, unsafe chemicals or failing to adequately identify the appropriate age for the toy’s user. (Remember, even a safe, well-made toy for an 8-year-old can be dangerous in the hands of a toddler—like magnet building toys, for instance.)

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Swallowed magnets attract negative press

Most of us remember magnet sets as toy box and classroom staples when we were growing up. Their ability to engage and teach young users about polarity, electronic currents and positive and negative reactions made them educational as well as fun—a fantastic combination for toy makers looking to market the sets to children and their parents.

But just like those of us who played with them, magnets grew up over the years.

In the later half of the 2000s, a new breed of magnet hit the shelves. Marketed as “desk toys” for adults, these small, extremely powerful earth magnets could be arranged in any number of intricate or interesting sculptures. This new take on an old favorite proved to be a hit with the public, and the desk toys began selling like hotcakes. Even though these were meant for adults, the small, shiny and incredibly powerful magnets also were enticing to young children and quickly began finding their way into the hands of toddlers.

And as any parent will tell you, what finds its way into a toddler’s hand will eventually end up in his or her mouth.

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Holiday toy hazards

By Lois Lee, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Now that the turkey and pumpkin pie are long gone, children have turned their holiday attention to what they think matters most—toys. But as you glance over those ever- growing wish lists, how can you be sure which toys are safest for your family? Fortunately for the safety conscious gift-giver in all of us, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) recently released Trouble in Toyland, their annual report on toy safety. This is the non-profit consumer organization’s 26th report, which for years has provided safety guidelines for consumers, as well as highlight toys currently on store shelves that could be potentially dangerous. It’s a great guide for parents, but by no means a rulebook; when shopping for your family, keep in mind that a little common sense goes a long way.

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Pediatrics studies SIDS risk in African American families

Lois Lee, MD, MPH

The excitement of decorating a baby’s room is a wonderful rite of passage for every parent. It’s also a big business for manufacturers. If you look in any baby related catalog, the choices for furniture, bedding and toys seems unlimited. But even though having so many options for matching sheets, blankets, crib bumpers and stuffed animals for your baby’s crib may seem appealing, these items put infants at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)* as well as suffocation, strangulation and entrapment.

It is well known that there are significant disparities in some medical conditions between different races and ethnicities, and SIDS risks are no exception. In infants born to black mothers, the rate of SIDS is more than twice that of white, non-Hispanic infants.  In addition, black infants have much higher rates of death due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, often caused by unsafe bedding items.

To better understand the reasons why the use of soft bedding is more prominent in black families, researchers from Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. recently conducted a study of infant bedding practices in black mothers. It’s hoped that by compiling this type of data, the medical community can better identify and educate at-risk families, resulting in safer infant sleep surfaces in the United States.

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