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Toddlers and Tub Dangers

How To Prevent Childhood Drownings By Eliminating Common Dangers

The bathtub may be a playground of soapy bubbles and rubber ducks, but it also sets the scene for about 100 accidental deaths annually among children younger than 5.

Supervision Is Key

Because most of these deaths occur when a child is left alone, such tragedies are preventable, says Dr. Joan Shook, chief of emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

"Young children should be carefully supervised at all times while bathing," Dr. Shook says. "Drowning can – and does – occur in as little as 2 inches of water."

Even adults with the best intentions can succumb to everyday distractions. "Checking to see who's ringing the door bell, answering the phone or getting a towel out of the dryer may seem harmless, but it takes only moments for a child to drown," Dr. Shook says. "Is any interruption really worth the risk?"

Relying on an older brother or sister for supervision can be equally dangerous. "It's particularly easy for kids of all ages to get distracted," Dr. Shook says. "Although a child may be in the same tub, he or she might not recognize signs of distress in time. There's simply no substitute for the watchful eyes and quick reflexes of a responsible adult."

Bath Seats and Rings

Because parents and caregivers falsely believe extra support means extra safety, bath seats and rings cause many bathtub drownings. "If the suction cups fail, the ring can dislodge," Dr. Shook says. "The seat can topple over. The baby's body also can slip through the seat's leg holes and the head can become trapped. Unfortunately, many of the seats and rings in use today have been borrowed or purchased second-hand, so they may not be in the best condition."

Even if the seat or ring is new, Dr. Shook recommends a thorough inspection. "Make sure the suction cups tightly adhere to both the seat or ring and the tub," she says. "Also, never use this equipment in a non-skid or slip-resistant bathtub because the suction cups may not stick to the tub surface."

Extra Protection

Once the bath is finished, water should be drained immediately. "Remove any loose items such as toys, washcloths and sponges from the tub area so they do not block the drain and prevent the tub from emptying completely," Dr. Shook says.

Because other factors can contribute to injuries and indirectly lead to drowning, there are additional measures adults can take to ensure a safe bath experience. "To provide greater traction, equip the tub with a rubber mat or apply non-slip adhesive decals or strips to the bottom of the tub," Dr. Shook says. "Keep a bath mat by the side of the tub so your child has a slip-free exit."

Finally, protecting kids from heat and electricity is especially important near water. "At its hottest point, water temperature should be no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit," Dr. Shook says. "Electrocution or shock can be averted by storing electrical appliances such as hair dryers, curling wands and electric razors away from children."

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