More than 5,000 U.S. children and teens are injured each year in falls from windows, according to a study that suggests the problem stretches beyond urban high-rises.
The research found many children fall from first- and second-story windows.
“This is more than just a big-city problem,” said senior author Dr. Gary Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Suburban mother, Beth Harlan, knows that to be true.
Two years ago, her daughter, Sidney Dillon, then age 6, fell from a second-story window in their home in Galloway, just west of Columbus. The girl was sitting on the sill and leaned against the window screen. Harlan walked into the room as the screen gave way.
“I came upstairs just in time to see her falling out the window,” Harlan said. Luckily, Sidney fell into a bush and fresh landscaping mulch. An X-ray ruled out broken bones. Still, the accident frightened both mother and daughter.
“Don’t ever think that kind of thing can’t happen to you,” Harlan said. “Never in a million years, when I opened up the window, did I think my kid would decide to sit in a windowsill.”
Harlan’s daughter was older than the typical child who falls. Preschoolers are at the highest risk and they suffer more head injuries than older children.
“Two-thirds of these injuries occurred among children younger than 5. This is the age group that’s mobile, curious and does not recognize the danger of falling from a window,” Smith said.
The study, appearing Monday in the journal Pediatrics, is the first nationally representative study of such injuries. Researchers analyzed data from emergency departments from 1990 through 2008. An estimated 98,415 children were hurt during that time.
Fewer than 1 percent of the cases led to deaths, but the researchers said the tally likely underestimated fatalities because not all children who die from their injuries are brought to the hospital.
Summer months, when windows are left open, saw the highest number of injuries. One- and two-story falls made up 94 percent of the cases where the height of the fall was recorded.
Injury rates declined slightly over the 19 years, about 4 percent, almost entirely in the under-5 age group. The average yearly injury rate was about 7 injuries per 100,000 children.
Increased awareness of the danger, improved window construction and the use of window guards — bars that allow windows to open but keep children from falling — could explain the decrease, Smith said.
New York and Boston have been able to achieve even greater decreases in injury rates through public awareness campaigns, Smith said. New York City requires window guards in apartments with children 10 and younger.
“The public awareness campaign is an important first step in building consensus. But not until you get the mandatory regulations in place are you going to see the kind of impact you’re trying to achieve,” said Dr. Andrew D. Racine of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York’s Bronx borough, where window fall injuries now are seen only rarely.
Window guards cost about $20 to $40 per window. A quick release feature allows escape from a fire or other emergency. Parents also should move furniture away from windows and open windows from the top, if possible.
“We know what works and yet we still have over 5,000 children a year being rushed to emergency departments because of falls from windows. That’s 14 kids a day,” Smith said.