By Peter West
TUESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Infant car seats have saved countless young lives, but those same seats are also responsible for injuring thousands of youngsters when improperly used outside a vehicle, a new study found.
More than 43,000 infants in the United States required emergency room care between 2003 and 2007 after falling in car seats that were improperly placed on tables, counters and other elevated surfaces. Accidents were even reported after seats rolled over on soft surfaces, such as beds and sofas, the study discovered.
"In our hospital, we saw some fractures caused by these falls, and decided it was probably a wider problem," said study author Dr. Shital Parikh, a pediatric orthopaedist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "These injuries are not common compared with some other causes, but they are significant enough to take notice."
Parikh was to present the research Monday at the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Accidents occur when unrestrained babies, especially those older than 2 months, rock and fidget inside an unattended seat, causing the device to tip over or fall, said Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital Center, in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
According to Parikh, the most common injuries during the five-year period were to the head, followed by fractures and dislocations. Three babies died.
The study comes two months after another study advised parents to remove their children from infant car seats after a car trip because the seats can compress the chest and lower levels of oxygen.
However, experts all agree that car seats are critical inside a vehicle to protect children from injury in a collision, just like seatbelt restraints protect adults.
In Parikh's study, 62 percent of the accidents involved infants younger than 4 months old. About half the accidents occurred at home, and 8 percent of the infants had to be hospitalized, said Parikh, who based his findings on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
"Babies older than 2 months are capable of real movement," said Richel, who was not part of the study. "We as physicians and health-care providers have to be aware of these kinds of accidents when we advise parents."
To prevent harm, Richel and Parikh recommended that car seats be used only in cars and only when the infants are properly restrained.
"The best thing is for babies to come out [of the car seat] when you come home," Richel said. "Barring any danger to the child, such as an aggressive dog, put the car seat directly on the floor."
Parikh also recommended that car-seat manufacturers do a better job of informing consumers about the danger of misusing their products, including offering explicit printed instructions. Car seat companies should also strive to engineer more stable seats, he added.
In related news, researchers confirmed earlier reports that booster seats significantly reduce the risk of crash injury in children ages 4 through 8.
According to the study, reported online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, children in belt-positioning booster seats were 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries than similarly aged children in standard vehicle seat belts. Booster seats with and without backs provided similar protection.
Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics for more on car-seat safety.
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