With Holidays Fast Approaching, Doctors Brace For Wave of Toy-Related Injuries

Choking hazards and swallowed magnets are just a few of the dangers to children that spike at year end.

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It’s a rare quiet moment in the holiday season at Toys To Love, a toy store located a few blocks from the Galleria, and staff members are restocking the displays. Bailey Kinney has owned Toys To Love for the past seven years. A big part of her job involves helping parents find the right toy for their children.

“A lot of times, they’ll ask, ‘What’s the hottest toy of the year?’” Kinney says, “and that’s good. We want people to want a hot toy, and we know a lot of times kids will want a certain toy. But usually the next question we’ll ask is, ‘What is the child into and what is their age range?’ because going in and just getting the hottest toy is not always right for every child.”

Getting that age range right may be an issue of how complex the toy is to use. But it can also be a matter of life and death. “If it says, ‘Ages 3 and Up’ on the box, then it does have choking hazards,” Kinney says. “So even if you’re worried at all that they will put it in their mouth at age 3, don’t get it.”

Between 2001 and 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded 238 toy-related deaths. Emergency room visits over the same period ran well into the thousands. Congress tightened laws governing toy safety in 2008, after a series of high profile recalls.

“We know that progress has been made since previous years,” says Sara Smith, state director for the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), “but there’s still a lot of work to be done to protect our youngest consumers from unsafe toys.”

TexPIRG recently released its annual survey of toy safety. The consumer watchdog tested hundreds of different types of toys. It cited two dozen examples of toys with dangers ranging from choking hazards to lead paint. “This is not an exhaustive list, so the idea is just to give parents an idea of the most common hazards to look at,” Smith says.

One hazard that’s become especially common in Texas is that of high-powered magnets. Far more powerful than refrigerator magnets, these can show up in train sets, action figures, and toy jewelry.

“When children swallow more than one magnet, those two magnets can actually adhere to each other while they’re in the intestines or the stomach and then cause erosion or holes within the intestinal system as well, causing a whole slew of complications and problems,” says Dr. Kay Leaming-Van Zandt, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Button-sized batteries, used to power electronic toys, can pose a similar problem. They’re easily swallowed. If they’re not fully digested, they can erode in the body, releasing chemicals that cause internal bleeding.

If there’s a common thread in all these dangers, it’s what can happen when a child puts a toy in his or her mouth. “Most toys, if they fit through a regular toilet paper kind of paper roll on the inside, it usually means that they’re too small for younger children and they do pose an aspiration or a choking risk,” says Dr. Leaming-Van Zandt. She also advises parents pay close attention to the age range listed for toys. It can make the difference between holiday fun and a trip to the emergency room. 


The 29th Annual Survey of Toy Safety Report


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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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