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Computers Causing Injuries in the Home

Falling monitors, dangerous wires a growing risk, especially for kids, study shows

TUESDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- Computers are everywhere in the home these days -- the office, the kid's room, maybe even on the kitchen table.

And that, according to new research, has led to more people showing up in emergency rooms with computer-related injuries.

That increase has not been slight: From 1994 to 2006, injuries caused by people tripping over computer wires or getting hit by falling equipment rose from about 1,300 a year to 9,300 a year, an increase of 732 percent nationwide.

Children under the age of 5 had the highest injury rate. The leading cause of injury for small children, and for adults over 60, was tripping or falling over computer equipment.

But while most injuries were to the extremities such as the arms or legs, young children were five times more likely than other age groups to sustain a head injury.

"It's a pretty significant problem, given that computers are in most homes these days and many homes have more than one," said study author Lara McKenzie, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The study will be published in the June 9 online issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

From 1989 to 2003, the number of U.S. households with a computer increased from 15 percent to 62 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly one-third of those had at least two computers.

"There are a lot of safety recommendations for all areas of the home -- the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms, but computers are not mentioned in the literature of the safety world," McKenzie said. "Yet kids are spending a lot of time on computers, and people are spending a lot of time on their computers or in their home offices."

McKenzie and her colleagues looked at injury data collected by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Over a 13-year period, about 78,000 people sustained computer-related injuries.

The annual rate peaked in about 2003, when about 10,000 were injured by computers. The number has since dropped off, possibly because lighter, LCD screens have become more prevalent.

For all ages, the most common acute computer-related injuries were lacerations (39 percent) and contusions and abrasions (23 percent).

Computers aren't the only dangerous items in the home. A recent study also by Nationwide Children's Hospital found about 15,000 children a year are treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries caused by furniture tipping.

And since the early 1990s, the number of children injured by falling TVs, shelves and dressers has risen 41 percent.

Recently, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson's 4-year-old daughter was accidentally strangled by a treadmill cord.

As much as possible, parents need to supervise their children, said Chrissy Cianflone, director of program operations for Safe Kids USA. Make rooms such as home offices and home gyms off limits.

"We know you can't watch your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Cianflone said. "But don't have them playing in the home office or the exercise equipment. Have them playing in a safe room that is baby-proofed."

Of the kids injured by computer equipment, 53 percent of those under age 5 and 41 percent of those aged 5 to 9 were hurt while playing near or climbing on computer equipment, the study showed.

To specifically minimize risk with computers, the machines should be kept on a wide, sturdy work surface that is away from walk areas, according to background information on the study. Organize and secure cords, keep the work space tidy and install safety covers on unused electrical outlets. And anchor heavy furniture or computer components to the wall.

More information has a household safety checklist for preventing household injuries.

SOURCES: Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., assistant professor, pediatrics, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; Chrissy Cianflone, director, program operations, Safe Kids USA, Washington, D.C.; June 9, 2009, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online

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