Nearly 37 million Americans visit hospital emergency rooms each year for treatment of injuries attributed to accidents. Of these, 147,000 persons die fromtheir injuries, making accidents the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. For persons under the age of 65, automobile accidents (accountingfor nearly 29% of all injury deaths) are the number one cause of accidentaldeaths in the United States. In second place are falls, which occur mainly inthe home; this type of accident is the leading cause of accidental death forpersons over 75.

By taking adequate precautions, many deaths due to accidents could be avoided. Many deaths occurring as the result of automobile accidents, for example, could be avoided if adults and children would use safety restraints, e.g., seat belts and restraint seats; it is estimated that one half of all adult fatalities and 90% of the deaths of children under five could have been preventedby the use of suitable restraints.

Drinking alcohol raises the risk of accidental injury and death. A relativelysmall amount of alcohol can impair a person's judgment, concentration, and reaction time. In 1996, 17,000 people died and more than 321,000 (for an average of one injury every two minutes) were injured in automobile accidents where police determined that alcohol was a factor. The injured included, besidesthe drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists who had been drinking.

Each year about one third of all adults over the age of 65 sustain falls. Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injury to elderly persons. Deaths from falls, or from complications arising as the result of a fall, are responsiblefor more than half of all accidental deaths of older persons. In addition, upto 25% of those who fall end up restricting their activities to prevent another fall. Although many falls can be attributed to an older person's unsteadygait, mobility problems, diminished vision, or use of multiple medications,there may also be contributing factors in the environment such as poor lighting, loose rugs, slippery surfaces, and objects on the floor that can be addressed before an accident occurs.

First degree burns (which involve damage to the epidermis, or outer layer ofskin) frequently result from minor household accidents such as touching a hotobject, a corrosive chemical (acids or alkalis), or uninsulated electrical wiring. Burns of this type can easily be prevented by exercising care when cooking or ironing, handling chemicals, or dealing with electricity.

In the case of accidents that leave the outer skin barrier scraped, cut, or punctured, it is essential that the injury be dealt with immediately to prevent infection.

Some authorities on childhood injuries prefer not to use the term accidents because most of these injuries are preventable and occur in predictable patterns. Children are particularly susceptible to preventable accidents, such as poisonings. A disproportionate number of childhood accidents are associated with stressful life events, such as the arrival of a new baby, divorce, death of a family member, or marriage of a parent. Parents can take appropriate measures to prevent their children from suffering accidental injury by noting that these accidents all too often involve chemicals stored in kitchen and dining areas; overheated bath water; electrical appliances; stairways; walkers; swimming pools; portable heaters; burning cigarettes; disposable lighters; toothpicks; firearms; microwave ovens; automatic garage doors; hazards associatedwith playpens, high chairs, or cribs; swings, slides, and other outdoor playequipment; windows; plastic bags; toy balloons and other toys; and discardedfreezers and refrigerators.

The increasing emphasis on exercise and sports accounts for many injuries. Anestimated 50 million Americans suffer at some point in their lives from kneepain or injuries, and at least one in four sports injuries involves the knee. Types of knee injuries include sprains (i.e., torn ligaments such as frequently occur in skiing, hockey, or soccer accidents), runner's knee (i.e., a degeneration of cartilage that affects nearly 30% of all runners but also showsup among skiers, cyclists, soccer players, and people who participate in high impact aerobics), and tendinitis (i.e., an inflammation of the tendons prevalent among dancers, hikers, and cyclists).

Muscle strains and sprains are typical of the types of accidents that resultfrom a single, abrupt incident; they are particularly common among weekend athletes don't know or have ignored the physical limitations of their muscles and joints.

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