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Ready for Emergencies?

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Today, accidental injuries are the leading cause of death in children under 5. Injuries used to be called “accidents” because they seemed unpredictable and unavoidable. Now we know that accidents are not random but instead follow distinct patterns involving changes in the child, the circumstance that causes the injury, and the environment in which the injury occurs.

These three components—the child, the circumstance, and the environment—are elements to examine. Prevention should focus on objects and surroundings because no matter how closely a child is watched, some accidents will happen. This is a new perspective: We used to think we could prevent accidents just by watching a child more closely. If an emergency occurs in a situation you considered safe, it offers a chance to learn something new about safety—once your child is out of harm’s way and recovered, that is!

  What Is a True Emergency?

  Animal Bites


  Scrapes and Cuts


  Head Bumps

What Is a True Emergency?

It’s a situation in which you believe a severe injury or illness threatens your child’s life or may cause permanent harm. In these cases, which may involve unconsciousness, serious breathing trouble, and bleeding that you can’t stop, a child needs to go to the emergency room for medical treatment immediately. Discuss with your pediatrician in advance what you should do, where you should go, or whom you should call in such a case. Be sure to post all critical phone numbers near every phone, and always let babysitters know where this information is and what to do with it.

Some injuries can be helped initially by proper treatment by you, and minor ones can be managed completely at home. Others will need some professional attention in addition to steps you take yourself. You’ll be able to evaluate what to do first with the information provided below.

Animal Bites

If an animal bite causes bleeding, apply firm and continuous pressure to the area for five minutes, or until the blood flow stops. Wash the wound gently with plenty of soap and water, then call your healthcare provider. Whenever an animal bite breaks the skin, even if it appears minor, it’s important to be sure about your child’s immunization status—that is, find out if she’s been adequately immunized against tetanus from DPT shots and if she might need protection against rabies. Both diseases can be spread by animal bites, so discuss the situation with your healthcare provider. Tell him if the attack animal is known to you and whether its health status can be checked. Bites from wild animals such as squirrels, raccoons, or rats always need to be evaluated.


Causes of burns in children include excessive exposure to sun, electrical or chemical contact, scalding by hot liquids, or contact with fire. All can cause permanent injury and scarring to the skin. Here’s what to do in case of such burns:

  • Soak the burn in cool water as quickly as possible. Do not use ice.
  • Remove any clothing from the burned area. If clothes are stuck to the skin, cut them away from the area as carefully as possible. You can also soak them off with clean, cold, wet cloths.
  • Don’t cover the wound unless it’s oozing. A small burn that is red or covered with blisters will dry out. If it is oozing, you can cover it with a sterile gauze pad, which is one of the supplies you should always have in your medicine cabinet. Call your healthcare provider for blistered burns or for burns that are white or black, which means the burn is deep. If the burn is larger than a saucer or involves the face or hands, call right away.
  • Do not put butter, grease, or powder on a burn. These are not remedies and can actually make the injury worse. If redness or pain continues for more than a few hours, consult your healthcare provider.
  • All electrical burns and burns of the hands, mouth, or genitals should receive medical attention as soon as possible. Be aware that sunburns that blister are second-degree burns. They need medical evaluation, pain relief, and careful protection the rest of the season.
Scrapes and Cuts

In most cases, good treatment requires just gentle, thorough cleansing of the area. Plenty of reassurance and perhaps a kiss on the injured area do wonders for your child, so don’t skimp on them.

Most scrapes in young children are abrasions, where the outer layers of skin have literally been scraped off. If it’s a large abrasion, the area may appear to be quite bloody, although the amount of blood lost is usually very small. Clean the area thoroughly because dirt left on the skin can lead to infection. Rinse the area first with water to flush away any debris, then wash as vigorously as possible with soap and warm water.

Iodine and other antiseptic solutions generally have little protective value, and they can add to the pain and discomfort. Most abrasions scab over quickly, and this is the best natural remedy. Scrapes that are large or oozing or are still open should be covered with a sterile dressing, which you can obtain at any drug store. Apply an antibiotic ointment to protect the surface until the scab forms. Change the dressing daily or more often if it gets dirty or wet. Dressings are usually needed for only two to three days, until a firm scab has formed.

A cut or laceration is a wound that breaks through the skin into the tissues beneath. There is likely to be bleeding, and damage to nerves and tendons is possible.

When your child gets a cut, do the following:

  • Apply pressure with a clean cloth over the site for five minutes. If bleeding hasn’t stopped or has started again after five minutes of continuous pressure, reapply pressure and seek medical attention.
  • Stay calm. This is often easier said than done, but you’ll make better decisions if you keep your cool, and your child will be less frightened. Seek medical advice if the laceration is deep (completely through the skin to the muscle or tendon beneath) or more than half an inch long. These cuts are more likely to damage nerves and tendons and more often need stitches, which ideally should be placed within eight hours of injury. So don’t delay getting your child to the doctor if the cut is deep or wide.
  • Check for movement around the cut: Fingers should still bend; toes should be able to curl. If not, a tendon may be cut, and you should see a healthcare provider right away.
  • If it’s not a deep cut, wash the wound with warm water and examine it carefully to make sure it’s clean; then cover it with a sterile dressing. Pull a Band-Aid across the cut at a right angle to keep the two sides together. Don’t hesitate to check with your doctor if you’re unsure about treatment.


Call 1-800-222-1222 (the U.S. Poison Center) right away if there is any chance your child has been poisoned. Suspect poisoning if you find your child with an open or empty container of any toxic substance, especially if he is acting strangely in any way. Other signs of possible poisoning include the following:

  • unexplained stains on clothing
  • burns on the lips or mouth
  • unusual drooling
  • unusual breath odors
  • unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal cramps without fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • sudden behavior changes
  • convulsions
  • unconsciousness
Take the poisonous substance away from your child, but keep the container or material for identification purposes. If he is vomiting and you are unsure what was ingested, catch some vomit in a container to bring to the doctor. Always call your local poison-control center with any suspicion of poisoning. Poison-control centers are staffed 24 hours a day and can provide immediate information and guidance.

If you are sure the situation is serious, or if your child is very groggy or unconscious, seek medical attention immediately, particularly if you are near an emergency facility. If it’s a long drive, get advice from the poison-control center or your health care provider before you start out.

Don’t make your child vomit unless you have been told to do so. In some cases vomiting may be dangerous. Products such as cleansers or dishwasher detergent can burn the throat, and vomiting can increase the damage.

Head Bumps

Generally, for a head injury to be serious, a child must fall more than four feet, be thrown a distance, land on something with a sharp edge, or be purposely hit with something by a large person.

If a child suffers a concussion, she will lose consciousness, if only for a few seconds. She’ll be confused and unable to tell you who and where she is, and she won’t remember how she was injured. All kids with concussions need to see a doctor right away and be observed for a period of time. For more on what to look for and how to handle serious head injuries, click here.

Every child is bound to have some kind of accident at some time, so don’t feel guilty when it happens. Do learn how you can help prevent accidents and, in their event, how to handle them calmly, efficiently, and safely.

Click here for a list of supplies to have in your medicine cabinet to be ready for any emergency.


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