Few things are as challenging as trying to find the perfect gift for a child.
With all the choices and trends in toys and games these days, it is sometimes hard for an adult to know what is cool and what isn't.
One thing that never goes out of style, though, is safety.
Working in the emergency department at Children's Hospital, I've seen my share of cases involving children with toy-related injuries. Some of the potentially serious ones involve children who have swallowed disc batteries or magnets.
Also, children have choked on small toys and parts.
Most of these injuries occur because a child was playing with a toy that was not recommended for his age or because parents did not know the potential hazard of the toy.
Even the most innocuous-looking toy can be dangerous, a point underscored by the toy recall list on Health Canada's website.
Among the items recalled are water balls. Promoted as a "science" toy, these marble-sized polymer objects absorb water and can grow up to 400 times their original size. The hazard, Health Canada says, is children may mistake the brightly coloured balls for candy and swallow them. Once ingested, "it expands inside the body and causes a blockage in the small intestine, resulting in severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration and could be life-threatening."
Water balls are not the only toys on the list. Each year, Health Canada issues recalls or warnings for all sorts of toys that pose a safety hazard of one kind or another. Fortunately, there are some guidelines for gift-buying that can help reduce the risk of purchasing a potentially hazardous toy. Here are a few tips:
-- Age appropriate: The most important thing when selecting a gift is to make sure it is age appropriate. Too often when buying a toy, parents, relatives or family friends tend to look at the age information on the side of the package as a developmental issue rather than a matter of safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. A toy that is "safe" for an older child can be a hazard to a child who is too young to play with it. When a manufacturer stipulates a toy is not appropriate for kids under the age of three, it is usually because the toy poses a choking threat to younger children -- not because they don't think your two-year-old child, niece or nephew is smart enough to play with it.
-- Toys with magnets: Magnets pose a huge risk to children. Look out for novelty gifts that contain magnetic balls or squares and are sold as puzzles or sculpture kits. Magnets can also be found in other toys, including board games, construction sets, toy jewelry, train sets and action figures and dolls.
The problem is magnets in toys can become dislodged. Children can pick up the magnets and swallow them. If two or more magnets are ingested, they can stick to each other and cause obstructions and perforations in the bowel, which usually require surgery to correct.
-- Disc and button batteries: These little batteries can be found in a wide range of products, including greeting cards, watches, games and flashing jewelry.
Children's Hospital treats children every year for problems associated with battery ingestion. Injury can occur when a child ingests a battery and it becomes stuck in the esophagus, where it can create an electrical current that burns the surrounding tissue. Surgery is usually required to rectify the problem.
Burns to the esophagus can occur within two hours of ingesting a battery, so parents have to act quickly if they suspect their child has swallowed one. The best thing to do is to go to the emergency department at your nearest hospital to have an X-ray taken. You can also check out www.myrightcare.ca.
There are, of course, a lot of safe and wonderful toys out there. But it is important to remember that taking a few moments to consider potential risks when buying a gift at this time of year can mean the difference between whether a child spends the holidays at home -- or in the emergency department.
Dr. Lynne Warda is medical director of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's injury-prevention program and an emergency physician at Children's Hospital.