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Whether your kiddo is a little daredevil or just a bit klutzy, accidents happen.

The good news is that most mishaps result in minor injuries that can be treated with a dab of antibacterial ointment, a little rest, and lots of hugs and kisses. But the reality is that every tumble has the potential to be “the big one” – an injury that has you speeding toward the nearest hospital.

But it’s a fine line. What kinds of injuries really raise the boo-boo bar? When is a trip to urgent care enough? And when might you need to seek highly-specialized emergency care at a pediatric trauma center?

Below we break down the most common childhood injuries and accidents that our team at Regions Hospital Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center sees every day, and what you should do if the time comes to head to the hospital.

 

1. Falls: The most common cause of injury for kids of all ages

Falls are the leading cause of injury among children. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that roughly 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries every day.

When and where are falls most likely to happen?

Playgrounds, especially slides and monkey bars, are some of the most common causes of injury. Other common fall hazards include:

  • Stairs
  • Beds without railings
  • Windows
  • Elevated landings
  • Baby walkers
  • Slippery bathtubs
  • Cluttered pathways

Also, while falls are the most common injury for kids of all ages, babies and toddlers are especially fall-prone. Little humans simply don’t have the same movement control and balance that older kids and adults do.

What types of fall injuries may need specialized trauma care?

Head, neck, back or spine injuries, and broken bones top the list. More specifically, these injuries can often need the highest level of trauma care – or what’s often called Level 1 trauma care. Why? These kinds of injuries can be more complex, which may require expert care from a range of specialists.

In addition, we suggest that you bring your child to a trauma center right away if they’re experiencing any of the following symptoms after a fall:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Possible broken bones – especially if the potential fracture is located in areas like the head, face, neck, back or pelvis, or if a bone has pierced through the skin – ligament tears or a spinal cord injury
  • New or worsening bleeding or swelling, headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness or memory loss surrounding the accident

 

2. Being struck by or against an object: Accidental impacts

Most kids get bumped into on a regular basis – especially if they play sports (or have older siblings). Usually these run-ins are minor accidents caused by playing a little too hard or getting distracted.

But according to CDC and NEISS All Injury Program data from 2000-2018, the frequency of emergency department visits after being struck by or against an object is second only to falls, especially for kids aged 0-14.

When and where are kids most likely to get struck by or against an object?

These types of injuries can happen anytime and anywhere. Here’s just a sampling of some of the accidents that fall into this category:

  • Walking into a wall, door or piece of furniture
  • Being hit by an object such as a baseball or a falling storage box
  • Getting hit and hurt by another player during a football, soccer, lacrosse, softball, baseball or other sports game
  • Being pinned under a piece of furniture or an appliance that tipped over

What types of “struck by or against” injuries may need trauma care?

Head, neck, back or spine injuries, and broken bones are often top trauma priorities for these types of accidents, too. Also, if your child is injured after being pinned under or against something, internal injuries can be a concern.

We suggest heading to a pediatric trauma center if your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Possible broken bones – especially if the potential fracture is located in areas like the head, face, neck, back or pelvis, or if a bone has pierced through the skin – ligament tears or a spinal cord injury
  • New or worsening bleeding or swelling, headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness or memory loss surrounding the accident

 

3. Motor vehicle accidents: The most common injury for teen drivers and riders

There are millions of motor vehicle accidents every year. Next to falls, these accidents are the most common causes of nonfatal injuries among teenagers.

When and where are motor vehicle accidents most likely to happen?

Whether your child is cruising in your family car or riding an ATV at the cabin up north, motor vehicle accidents can happen anytime. And teens between 16 and 19 are at a higher motor vehicle crash risk than any other age group, according to the CDC.

Why? One reason is because teens are less experienced drivers or they’re riding with less experienced drivers.

The CDC says that the crash risk for teen drivers is especially high during their first few months of licensure. In addition, the presence of other teen passengers increases crash risks.

When may trauma care be needed after a motor vehicle accident?

Motor vehicle accidents can cause a range of injuries – some obvious and some subtle. And even low-speed accidents can leave kids with an injury.

After any motor vehicle accident, we suggest getting your child checked out. Some injuries may or may not present themselves right away. Urgent care can be a good choice for minor bumps, scrapes or bruises.

If an ambulance arrives and paramedics say a trip to the ER is recommended, we suggest you follow their advice and ask to be taken to the nearest pediatric trauma center.

In addition, we recommend seeking pediatric emergency care if your child has any of the following injuries or symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Visible or possible head, neck or back injuries
  • Possible broken bones – especially if the potential fracture is located in areas like the head, face, neck, back or pelvis, or if a bone has pierced through the skin – ligament tears or a spinal cord injury
  • New or worsening bleeding or swelling, headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness or has memory loss surrounding the accident

 

4. Cuts and puncture wounds: Injuries that are more than a little scratch

Whether they’re playing with friends or helping you in the yard, a lot of kids accidently cut or poke themselves with something sharp. Most wounds will sting and throb, but once they’re cleaned and patched up they typically heal pretty quickly.

But more serious lacerations or piercings are relatively common, especially for kids between 5 and 14 years old.

When are cuts and piercings most likely to happen?

Usually, most deep cuts or piercings occur after another common kid injury occurs – namely a bad fall or being hit by something. But other household accidents involving machinery like yard tools, kitchen appliances or cutlery can be the culprits, too.

When may trauma care be needed for cuts and piercings?

If your child has any lacerations or puncture wounds that occurred after a fall, being hit by an object, or may involve a broken bone, head to the nearest trauma center. Multiple injuries will likely require care from multiple specialists.

If a cut or puncture is the primary injury, get emergency pediatric trauma care if your child’s injury is:

  • Bleeding heavily or the bleeding hasn’t decreased after five to 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Causing numbness or inability to move fingers, toes, arms, legs, joints or other parts of their body
  • Deeper or longer than ½ inch
  • Located on your child’s head or face, or close to an eye
  • Caused by a dirty or rusty object
  • Embedded with dirt, gravel or other debris
  • Has ragged or separated edges
  • Caused by an animal or human bite
  • Extremely painful
  • Showing signs of infection (e.g. increased warmth, redness, swelling or drainage, or foul odor)

 

5. Bites and stings: Wounds caused by animals, insects and humans

The vast majority of bites and stings are minor – requiring little to no medical treatment. But according to the previously mentioned CDC and NEISS All Injury Program data, bites and stings are the third most common reason for ER visits for kids aged 0-9.

When and where are bites and stings most likely to happen?

Like any injury, bites and stings can happen anytime, anywhere. Among children, dog bites are some of the most common injuries we see.

When may trauma care be needed after a bite or sting?

After any bite or sting, seek emergency pediatric trauma care if:

  • The wound (or wounds) is bleeding heavily or the bleeding hasn’t decreased after five to 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • The wound (or wounds) is showing signs of infection (e.g. increased warmth, redness, swelling or drainage, or foul odor)
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing or showing other signs of an allergic reaction such as swell hives, wheezing or trouble swallowing, rapid pulse or dizziness

Specifically for animal bites, seek emergency care if:

  • The animal that bit your child is wild
  • The bite or bites are deeper or longer than ½ inch – especially if they’re located on your child’s face and/or near an eye
  • The bite is from a venomous snake or spider
    • Venomous snake and spider bites are rare in the Midwest, and Minnesota and Wisconsin have just two species of poisonous snakes
  • The bite is from a bat (which is uncommon in Minnesota and beyond, but requires fast care)

 

6. Foreign bodies: When something is where it shouldn’t be

It’s safe to say that every kid experiences a “foreign body” at some point during their childhood. Whether it be a splinter in their finger or a sweet pea in their nose, curious kiddos get things stuck.

But more serious cases happen. In fact, it’s the fourth most common reason for an ER trip for kids between 1 and 4 years old.

When and where are foreign body injuries most likely to happen?

Most of the time, the child will inhale or ingest something on their own. This can happen during a meal time or during play time.

When may trauma care be needed for removing a foreign body?

Most foreign bodies can pass through their gastrointestinal track without issue, but sometimes they become lodged in the throat, stomach or soft tissues. Choking and bowel obstructions are the biggest concerns, and require emergency medical care.

If your child appears to be choking, take action by using choking first aid techniques like back blows or the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the object. If you don’t know how or your efforts aren’t working, call 911.

If your child has swallowed something and you’re unsure if it can be passed naturally, call your doctor. Go to a pediatric trauma center if you notice any of the following symptoms of a possible bowel obstruction:

  • Severe abdominal pain, cramping or swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Loud bowel sounds
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Constipation

 

7. Burns: Injuries that aren’t only caused by fire

Whether a curious hand grabs for a hot pan or repeated sunscreen applications didn’t get the job done, mild burns are pretty common for kids.

But only a little amount of time – sometimes just seconds – is needed for burn injuries to worsen.

When and where are burns most likely to happen?

Thermal burns – burns caused by coming into contact with flames, or hot metals, liquids or steam – are the most common among children. But other types of burns include:

  • Chemical burns caused by acids or solvent cleaners (e.g. bleach, ammonia, paint thinner)
  • Electrical burns after coming into contact with an electrical current
  • Radiation burns (aka sunburn)
  • Friction burns such as road rash or carpet burn
  • Cold burns such as frostbite

When may trauma care be needed for burn injuries?

If a burn has caused any damage below the epidermis – the outer layer of the skin – some degree of specialty care may be needed. Blisters signal a second-degree burn that’s gone deeper, and any charring or whitish marks are a sign of the most severe third- or fourth-degree burns.

The more severe or widespread the burn, the higher degree of specialty care that is needed. Our Regions Hospital Burn Center specialists – who are an integral part of our Level 1 trauma center care team – suggest that kids get specialized burn care if:

  • Burns are located on the face, ears, hands, feet or genital area where permanent damage is a risk if not treated properly
  • Burns appear deeper than first-degree and/or cover a large area of the body (e.g. larger than the size of your palm)
  • There are signs of infection (e.g. increased warmth, redness, swelling or drainage, or foul odor)
  • Pain, irritation or discoloration worsens

 

For the worst kid injuries, get the best possible trauma care

Accidents happen. And the worst ones can result in injuries that need highly-specialized care from pediatric trauma experts.

Level 1 trauma centers like ours at Regions Hospital have the staffing, resources and expertise to provide the highest level of care possible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. In fact, our pediatric trauma program includes an ongoing partnership with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare – an internationally renowned children’s health care provider that’s located just steps away from the Regions Hospital emergency wing.

Learn more about Regions Hospital Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center  – the east metro’s only Level 1 pediatric trauma center – located in downtown St. Paul.

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