More than 600 children under the age of 6 are treated each year in U.S. hospital emergency departments for injuries related to window blinds, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Most of those cases involve relatively minor injuries, such as the cuts and bruises that can occur after a child is struck by a falling blind. But a significant number of the incidents— more than one in eight — are the result of the child becoming entangled in the cords, most commonly around the neck. The danger there, of course, is that the child will be asphyxiated.
Tragically, about one child dies in the United States each month from a window-blind-related injury, the study reports.
“Despite previous recalls of specific types of window blinds and existing voluntary safety standards for window coverings, window blind cords continue to be a public health threat to young children,” write the study’s authors.
It’s time — long past time — for a mandatory safety standard that requires all window coverings to be cordless, they say.
For the study, a team of researchers led by Dr. Gary Smith, director of injuries research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, began by analyzing data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). This database contains a nationally representative sample of injury data from about 100 hospital emergency departments.
Based on that data, Smith and his colleagues estimated that 16,827 children under age 6 — or 647 children each year — were treated in an emergency department for a window blind injury from 1990 through 2015. The average age of the children was 2.6 years, and almost 62 percent were boys.
The vast majority of the injuries — about 95 percent — occurred in the child’s home, and most (65 percent) involved an injury to the head. The most common injury was a laceration (56 percent), followed by a contusion or abrasion (23 percent). Almost half of the injuries (49 percent) resulted from the child being struck by the blind.
In about 12 percent of the cases, however, the child had become entangled in a window blind’s cord, leading to more serious injuries. Three out of four (78 percent) of the 726 children who were hospitalized for their injury — and 94 percent of the 271 who died — had been found with the cord wrapped around their neck.
Smith and his colleagues then looked at another database, the In-Depth Investigation (IDI) reports, which provides more detailed information on cases involving window blind cord entanglements. That data revealed that most of the children (65 percent) became entangled in cords while in their bedrooms, often after being placed in their beds to sleep. But children also got wrapped up in the cords while playing elsewhere in the house, almost always when their parents or caregivers weren’t watching.
What parents can do
“Window blind strangulation incidents can be fatal within minutes and can occur silently,” the researchers point out in their paper. “In this regard, they are similar to child drownings.”
“Accessible window blind cords should be considered as hazardous to young children as standing bodies of water,” they stress.
Smith and his colleagues also point out that it’s unrealistic to expect parents and other caregivers to supervise children constantly. The best approach to preventing these tragedies, they stress, is to require that “all window covering products be cordless or have cords that are inaccessible to children.” Such technologies are already available, and add little to the cost of manufacturing, the researchers add.
But until those mandatory standards are imposed, parents and other child caregivers (including grandparents) should take preventive steps to reduce the risk of window blind injuries. Unfortunately, too many people, even if they are aware of the safety hazard, fail to take action. A 2015 survey found that although 73 percent of parents are aware of the danger associated with window blinds, only 23 percent had done anything to reduce the risk in their own homes.
Some parents may not know what exactly they should do. A great resource is the Parents for Window Blind Safety website, which was started by Linda Kaiser, a Missouri mother whose 1-year-old daughter was strangled in 2002 after pulling on a looped cord of a window blind and putting it around her neck.
Kaiser offered these tips to Consumer Affairs reporter Sarah Young:
Look for window coverings with no outer cords, and tight inner cords
Products with cords that cannot be pulled any longer than 12 inches are also safe but aren’t widely available as of now.
Cords inside of wands that restrict the cords are safe options as well.
FMI: An abstract of the new study is on Pediatrics’ website, but the full study is behind a paywall.