Preventive Care - Injury prevention
At home, at school, and at play, hazards exist that can lead to injuries. Just as a person can take steps to prevent illness and disease, one can take steps to prevent getting hurt as well. Following good household safety precautions, using the right equipment for sports and play, and remembering to warm up before and cool down after any physical activity are just three of the ways people can prevent minor injuries. The following section will explore many more.
Accidents can happen anywhere, even in one's own home. Taking precautions around the house can increase the safety level and prevent falls, cuts and burns, accidental poisoning, medicine over-doses, and electrocution—some of the potential hazards in a typical household environment.
PREVENTING FALLS. Preventing falls generally means removing obstacles around the house and yard that can cause someone to fall. This is a cooperative effort on the part of everyone who lives there. However, one of the best ways to prevent falls is by exercising regularly. Exercising improves muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination, all of which help keep a person from accidentally falling down, as well as reducing the likelihood of serious injury if one does fall. Here are some more tips for preventing falls:
SHOULD YOU GET A FLU SHOT?
Not on the list of standard childhood vaccinations, but something to consider, is an annual "flu shot." Each year, doctors receive a supply of vaccine for the type of influenza or "flu" virus that is expected to strike. Many people go to their doctors for this annual vaccine to prevent a bad case of the flu. However, some people avoid the shot for fear that the vaccine itself will give them the flu—and some cases like this have been reported. Also, a small percentage of people do experience a slight fever and muscle ache from the immunization. Because of this risk, the vaccination is more likely to be recommended for adults over sixty-five or those with weak immune systems. Check with your doctor for advice on whether to be vaccinated for influenza.
- Clean up any spills around the home immediately.
- Keep stairways clear and well lit, and hold on to handrails while going up and down stairs.
- Put nonslip pads under rugs to hold them down and prevent tripping.
- Use nonskid wax on kitchen and bathroom floors.
- Place nonskid strips on the bottoms of showers and bathtubs. Install grab bars or handrails in the bathtub and shower.
- Keep small objects and cords off the floor or at least out of the pathways of travel throughout the home.
- Store items that are frequently used in places where they are easily reached without climbing.
- Improve the lighting throughout the house.
- Wear sturdy shoes.
- Avoid walking on icy sidewalks and pavement.
CUT AND BURN PREVENTION. Using a little common sense with sharp objects is the best way to prevent accidental injuries involving cuts. Knives, forks, scissors, and other sharp tools should be kept in a drawer with a safety latch if there are young children in the home. Also, they should not just be thrown in a drawer. This could lead to cuts when reaching in to grab something. There are different kinds of products available to help organize sharp objects in drawers and other spaces.
When using a sharp object, like a knife or scissors, one should always hold it by the handle and not walk around with it. It is also important to use caution with appliances that have sharp blades, such as blenders or food processors. One should be very careful when cleaning these appliances and should always unplug the appliances if it is necessary to have a hand near the blades. One should also never reach into a garbage disposal with his or her hand.
Other kitchen safety tips include keeping glass objects within easy reach to prevent breakage from dropping or falling. When loading and unloading the dishwasher, one should take special care handling knives, or other sharp tools. Taking out the garbage can also result in injuries if one is not careful. If someone threw away broken glass or a metal can with a sharp edge, the person handling the garbage could cut himself.
As well as the kitchen, the garage may hold some things that could cause injuries. All tools, including those used for gardening, automotive, and lawn care, should be put away in a safe manner. When mowing the lawn, one should always wear shoes.
The following precautions should be taken to avoid the possibility of an accidental burn:
- Never smoke in bed.
- Do not leave burning candles unattended, even for a short while.
- If using a space heater be sure it is not placed near curtains or a bedspread that could start a fire, or where a small child could reach the heating elements.
- Avoid overloading electrical sockets with too many appliances.
- Do not leave hot appliances like hair curlers or coffeepots plugged in.
- Avoid reaching over stove burners with long hair or loose sleeves hanging down.
- When cooking, always use the back burners on the stove, and be sure to turn the pot handles away from the front where they could be knocked easily or grabbed by a small child.
- Always test bath water with the tips of the fingers before stepping in to make sure it is not too hot.
- Never go to sleep with a heating pad on. Even on low settings, a heating pad can cause serious burns.
PREVENTING ACCIDENTAL POISONING.
One of the biggest hazards in any household is the presence of numerous substances that can be poisonous if ingested or, in some cases, handled at all. The best method of prevention for accidental poisoning is to be aware of these substances, which ones are dangerous, how they should be handled, and how to avoid them.
Household cleaning products and aerosol sprays are one source of potential poisoning. They should be stored in clearly marked containers out of reach of small children, and never in old soda bottles or containers that were once used for food.
One should avoid handling roach powders or rat poison, and never leave such items where small children or pets can reach them. If using pesticides is unavoidable, read the product label before use and follow all recommended safety precautions during and after use. Some safety tips for using pesticides include wearing gloves and protective clothing, avoiding breathing the fumes or vapors, and washing hands or showering right after applying pesticides.
When using mouthwash, one should be careful not to swallow much of it as many mouthwashes contain substantial amounts of alcohol. Remember that alcohol poisoning can be severe and often fatal. Sometimes paint in older homes or on old furniture contains lead, which can cause lead poisoning in
humans. Other things that may contain lead and should be avoided are dust and debris from older building renovations, some cosmetics and ceramics, leaded gasoline fumes, and auto battery storage casings.
Other poisons can actually be found in plants. Take time to learn all the names of the plants in the house, and remove any that could be toxic. Many household plants can be poisonous if accidentally ingested by either humans or pets. Do not play with or try to break open batteries, either the regular type used in radios and headsets or automotive batteries; both contain acid that is poisonous and can cause painful burns.
MEDICINE CABINET SAFETY. Medicines are a leading cause of serious and sometimes fatal accidental poisonings, even among adults who simply mistake one medicine for another or take the wrong dose. For this reason, special precautions should be taken to store medicines properly and to take them only as directed.
All family members should take care not to leave vitamin bottles, aspirin bottles, or other medications on the kitchen table, countertops, bedside tables, or dresser tops. When guests are in the house, be sure they do not have access to the family medicine cabinet, and that the guests' medications are safely stored away.
THE DANGERS OF CARBON MONOXIDE
One type of household poisoning is caused by carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced whenever something is burned incompletely or in a closed environment. It is toxic to all animals and to humans, and it is especially dangerous because it is so difficult to detect.
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to have a CO detector installed in the house. Check with friends and family to see if their homes also are protected. Avoid staying in homes or buildings where old gas furnaces, water heaters, or space heaters are in use, and be sure that when a fireplace or charcoal grill is lit, it is properly ventilated.
Never use lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other small gasoline-powered equipment inside, even when performing repairs. Do not start any automobile in an enclosed garage, even just to warm it up in the wintertime. Also, if a household pet, which may show the effects of CO poisoning earlier than a human, suddenly becomes ill or dies, think of the possibility of a toxic exposure and have the house checked.
[For more information on carbon monoxide, see Chapter 5: Environmental Health.]
One should always keep medications in their original containers with the labels intact. Pills left in purses or liquids stored in unmarked bottles are too easily mistaken for something else. In addition, always check the label before taking medication and only give medication to the person for whom it was prescribed. Another precaution is to not take medicine or even vitamins in the dark, in case of an accidental switch or overdose. After taking or administering medication, be sure to reattach the safety cap and store the medication
away safely. Also, dispose of any out-of-date or expired medication safely, preferably by taking it to a pharmacy where it can be disposed of as hazardous waste.
SAFETY WITH ELECTRICITY. Another major safety hazard in any home is the electrical system and all electrical appliances. The following are steps that a person can take to avoid being burned or even electrocuted (a potentially fatal accident) by a mishap with electricity.
- Do not touch the electrical system panel.
- Tell a parent or other adult if lights dim or the size of the television picture shrinks often; if there are sparks or bright light flashes or unusual sounds from the system; or if parts of the system, such as outlet covers or plugs, feel warm.
- Try to avoid the use of extension cords, and never use frayed or damaged ones.
- Replace damaged or frayed cords, which can cause shock or fire.
- Do not secure cords with nails or staples, which can present fire and shock hazards. If nails or staples need to be removed, disconnect the power first.
- Do not try to plug a three-prong plug into a two-hole outlet. Use an adapter, which grounds the current and helps prevent shocks. Never stick a finger into an outlet.
Guns take the lives of sixteen children in the United States each day, through homicide (one person killing another), suicide (the taking of one's own life), or accidental shootings. Many young people have easy access to these deadly weapons, which is resulting in major tragedies across the nation. The best advice is to avoid handling firearms altogether, and if at all possible, to avoid being in a house where there are guns. However, in any household where guns are kept, safety precautions can be taken to prevent a tragic accident.
- Never play with or joke around with a gun, even if you are "sure" that the gun is not loaded. Never point a gun at yourself or anyone else.
- All guns should be stored in a locked cabinet, unloaded, with the safety mechanism on.
- Ammunition should be stored separately in a securely locked container.
- If possible, all guns should be secured with childproof devices such as trigger locks or padlocks that prevent them from being fired.
- Take a firearm safety course to learn the safe and correct way to handle any gun.
- Use caution in bathrooms, kitchens, basements and garages where people can touch heating radiators, water pipes, electric heaters, electric stoves and water in sinks and bathtubs. If a person touches one of these and a faulty electrical appliance at the same time, he or she can receive a shock and may be electrocuted.
- Unplug all small appliances when not in use.
- Do not ever use a hair dryer or other electric appliance in or near a sink or bathtub. If it is plugged in, even if the power is off, it can deliver a powerful shock if it comes into contact with water.
- Never reach into water to get an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged.
- Use electric blankets according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Never go to sleep with a heating pad that is turned on.
Recreation and Sports
Just as there are dangers inside the home, hazards exist in the outside world as well. Even when participating in fun activities such as games and sports, people must take precautions to prevent injuries.
PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT. One of the most important ways to prevent injury during sports and recreation is to be sure to wear the right clothing and protective gear.
FOOT PROTECTION. Good footwear is essential to prevent foot injuries, such as Achilles tendon strains and bruising. Never wear worn-out shoes; try to choose footwear that is sturdy enough and appropriate for the activity being conducted.
HEAD GEAR. Proper helmets are essential gear for almost any sport, including bicycling, in-line skating, skateboarding, playing roller hockey, baseball or softball, and of course football. It is estimated that two-thirds of the bicycle related deaths each year are caused by head injuries, and the universal use of helmets could save one life per year. In addition to helmets, find out what other protective gear is right for the particular sport being played. Face masks, mouth guards, shin guards, and other protective items greatly reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries.
SHIELD THE EYES. Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children, and sports are the major cause of eye injuries in school-age children. Always wear some kind of face mask, face guard, or goggles, whatever is appropriate for the sport. People who already wear eyeglasses should consider investing in a special pair for sports use.
SPORTS AND SPECIAL EQUIPMENT. There are many sports that require their own special equipment. Before starting a new sport, learn what kinds of equipment are necessary and how to use them.
ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL YOUTH SPORTS SAFETY FOUNDATION, AS MANY AS ONE-THIRD OF IN-LINE SKATING EMERGENCY-ROOM-TREATED INJURIES COULD BE PREVENTED OR LESSENED IN SEVERITY BY THE USE OF PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT.
- Make sure the bicycle is adjusted properly; the rider should be able to stand over the top tube.
- Check to make sure all parts are secure and working well. The handlebars should be firmly in place and turn easily. The wheels must be straight and secure.
- Always check brakes before riding.
- Ride slowly in wet weather and apply brakes earlier; it takes more distance to stop.
- Wear fluorescent or other bright-colored clothes.
- Avoid biking at night.
- Always keep a lookout for obstacles.
- Stay alert at all times.
- Use special care on bridges.
- Ride on the right side in a straight predictable path.
- Always be aware of the traffic in the area.
- Learn the rules of the road and obey traffic laws.
- Never wear headphones while riding as they impair your ability to hear traffic.
Baseball and softball are examples of sports that require their own special gear, both for players and for the playing field. Each player should have his own glove, bat, and cleated shoes. Make sure the equipment meets league requirements. Most leagues supply batting helmets, which are extremely important; if the league doesn't supply one with a face guard, buy one. Check out the baseball field and be sure it has breakaway bases that help prevent ankle fractures and sprains. The field should be well maintained and free of ruts and debris. In fact, in any sport, the facility should be clean and well maintained, the equipment should be frequently inspected, metal equipment should not be rusty, and floors should be safely maintained to prevent slips and falls. To learn about other sports and the equipment necessary to use when playing, one may consult coaches, sport stores, books, magazines, or the Internet.
DON'T OVERDO IT. Overuse injuries such as teenager's knee, Little League elbow, swimmer's shoulder, and gymnast's back are becoming much more common than in the past. These injuries produce symptoms of redness, swelling, stiffness, soreness, and pain in the affected areas and are simply caused by "overdoing it"—failing to recognize when enough is enough.
Warming up and cooling down appropriately will help minimize overuse injuries, as will stretching before playing or engaging in a sport. Learn the proper technique for the particular activity, and do a variety of practice drills so that the technique is perfected and the skills are done properly and not dangerously.
Don't exceed restrictions, such as the limit on the number of innings Little Leaguers can pitch in one week. Consider playing more than one sport. Specializing all year in one sport can put too much stress on particular parts of the body, such as the back and wrists in gymnastics.
WARM UP AND COOL DOWN. When engaging in any sort of physical activity, make it a rule to warm up before starting and to cool down afterward. Before starting, take three to five minutes to stretch and loosen the muscles and joints that will be used in the activity. This simple precaution significantly decreases the risk of muscle sprains, pulls, and strains.
SAFE IN-LINE SKATING
All in-line skaters should wear a proper helmet, wrist guards, and knee pads. To avoid injuries, practice and prepare before striking out on the street. Always be aware of a safe place to "bail out" if that becomes necessary. Learn to "crash" in grass or other soft surfaces while skating. Avoid skates with toe stops, which should never be used on in-line skates, and use heel brakes instead. Be sure the liner is well cushioned and supports the foot, and that the laces or buckles on the skate give as close as possible to a customized fit.
Similarly, at the end of the activity, cool down by walking slowly, doing another gentle activity, and finally stretching once again. This
is essential to help prevent and reduce the severity of any strains, injuries, or soreness from the activity.
TAKE IT SLOW. It takes time to learn a new sport and be good at it. When starting a new sport, a person should first learn the rules of the game and what equipment is required. After that, learn and practice a few skills until one feels more comfortable. In the beginning, one should focus on relaxing and having fun with the sport, and as skills improve, then try more advanced techniques. Many injuries occur when people try to perform at a level that is too advanced for their skills.
There are a few precautions that can be taken by anyone playing a sport or game to reduce the risk of injury:
- A person should not lift any weight that he or she has to strain to lift even once.
- People's motor skills develop at different rates, so they should not try to force themselves to play a sport for which they are not suited. Individuals should try different things until they find the right one.
- Do not return to sports after an injury if there is any limited motion in a joint compared to its uninjured opposite joint (such as in the right elbow compared to the left), joint swelling, or a limp.
- Be especially careful when playing sports during growth spurts. During growth spurts, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments get tighter, increasing the risk of injury.
- Prepare for weather conditions. When the temperature is higher than 85 degrees and humidity is greater than 70 percent, there is a danger of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids on such days. Always apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) level of 15 or higher before going outside. In cold weather, make sure to be properly dressed in warm, insulating layers, with the head well covered, if permitted.