MONDAY, March 12, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Every six minutes, a child under the age of 5 is treated in the ER for a stair-related injury, new U.S. research shows.
The study found that from 1999 to 2008, more than 931,000 children arrived in hospital emergency rooms with such injuries.
And those younger than 1 who are carried on stairs seem especially prone to getting hurt.
There is, however, some good news in the report: The annual injury rate did, in fact, drop during the course of the research.
"We can be happy that the numbers are going down, but it's still a very common source of injury," said study co-author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The study appears online and in the April print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
In the 1990s, Smith and his colleagues warned about the hazards of "baby walkers," wheeled walkers that could send babies tumbling down stairs. Manufacturers redesigned the walkers so they'd come to a halt at the top of a stairwell, Smith said.
For the new study, the researchers decided to take a wider look at stair-related injuries. "We wanted to get some up-to-date information, so we could give information to parents about the hazards and come up with some new strategies," Smith explained.
The study authors used government data from about 100 hospitals to estimate the number of emergency room visits that were due to stair-related injuries.
They found that about three-quarters of the injuries were to the head and neck, and almost 3 percent of the kids injured had to be hospitalized.
Kids under the age of 5 "have a high center of gravity, up around their chest, not near the waist like in adults," Smith said. "They tend to topple forward and usually don't have the upper body strength to break their fall. They typically injure their face, head and neck."
Among injured kids under the age of 1, 25 percent were hurt while being carried. Overall, kids who were injured while being carried were more than three times as likely as other injured kids to need to be hospitalized.
Why so many injuries in kids who were being carried? "We're in this multitasking world where we're trying to do a lot of things," Smith said. "Parents need to resist that temptation."
If parents do need to carry a child on stairs, they should use one hand free to steady themselves on the handrail, he said, "or leave the child in the crib."
Overall, the number of stair-related injuries per year fell by almost 12 percent from 1999 to 2008.
To prevent children from falling on stairs, University of Pittsburgh pediatrician and assistant professor Dr. Sonika Bhatnagar recommended that parents keep kids away from stairs when possible, keep stairs free of objects, don't use them with a stroller, don't use baby walkers and don't allow kids to play on or around stairs.
Study co-author Smith said many stairs aren't designed to prevent injuries, and Bhatnagar agreed. She said building codes should allow wall-mounted gates on stairs to keep kids off them (some stairways aren't designed to allow their use) and encourage handrails that allow easy gripping. Other stairway design features can improve safety, too, she said.
For more about injuries, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.