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A team of researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital has published a new report in Pediatrics that tallies the number of deaths and injuries due to window-shade cords over a 26-year period.
The results are alarming: In those years, 271 children, or about one child per month, died from strangulation by window cords. This number likely underestimates the true danger, says Dr. Gary Smith, an emergency-room physician and one of the study's co-authors, as the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database doesn't record injuries and deaths to children who are treated in a non-emergency room setting or who didn't receive medical care at all.
Children get tangled up in window-shade cords when they're left alone in a room - to nap, for example, or to play or watch TV. Because strangulation is silent and can happen within minutes, parents don't notice until it's too late.
Replace Everywhere You Can
This means that you should get rid of all your corded window shades: "If window blinds have either operating cords or accessible inner cords, they are too dangerous to have in a home where small children are present," Dr. Smith wrote in an email. "The best way to keep your children safe is to replace all blinds that have cords with either cordless blinds, blinds with inaccessible cords, or other types of cordless window coverings, such as interior window shutters, draperies, and curtains."
If you can't replace all the corded blinds at once, at least change the ones in the child's bedroom and anywhere else he or she regularly plays, like the living room or a playroom, "and replace the others as you can." If you don't want to go for drapes or shutters, here are cordless shades at every price point, even just some shades from IKEA will do as a quick fix.
Other solutions, like buying a retrofit kit from the manufacturer, are a decent stop-gap measure, but Dr. Smith cautions that "removing corded blinds altogether is the best way to protect your child. Some of the fixes can provide a false sense of security if they are not used correctly 100% of the time by everyone who lives in or visits your home."
Parents should also move cribs and beds away from windows, as well as any furniture (like couches) that kids might climb on to get to the cords.
Do This Everywhere Your Child Spends Time
You should replace your window-blinds not only at your home but also anywhere your child sleeps or plays, like at the grandparents' or a babysitter's house. You should also check out your day care — is their window-shade situation safe?
You need to think about this until your child is about six years old, but particularly in the toddler/preschooler years: "The dangers of blind cords peak between 1 to 4 years of age as toddlers gain mobility and become curious about their surroundings. They are able to reach blind cords, but they do not understand the danger of strangulation and are unable to free themselves once entangled," says Dr. Smith.
NPR reports that we're rapidly headed towards a cordless society: The Window Covering Manufacturing Association, responding to information provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is revamping its safety standards; soon, all "stock" window shades in stores will be cordless or will have cords that aren't accessible to little fingers.
If this seems alarmist, it isn't - a lot of parents just aren't aware of the danger, "especially the inner cords of the blinds that are harder to see," says Dr. Smith. "Some parents may simply think that the risk is small and it will not happen to their child," or that they're alert enough to head off any potential tragedies.
But Dr. Smith disagrees:"There is a misperception that if we just watch our kids carefully, they will be safe. But even the best parent in the world cannot watch their child every second of every day."