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Sports, selfies and sharks: Just some of the reasons Americans go to the ER

From drunken boxing matches to Halloween teeth that won’t come unglued, Americans visit the emergency room for varied, and sometimes amusing, injuries.

New data on 2017 hospital visits, released last week, suggest floors, stairs and beds remain the most dangerous items in the American home, collectively accounting for an estimated 3.2 million hospital visits.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a federal effort to monitor product-related injuries, collects data from a group of representative hospitals around the U.S. Researchers then extrapolate from the causes of those visits to get an estimate of hospital visits nationally.

Each visit includes a one- or two-line incident narrative. Many are mundane: the slips, trips and falls workplace safety posters warn about.

Others provide a bit of color, such as a Halloween visit from a 42-year-old woman who was “running away (from) being scared at spook house” and collided with a fence, hitting her right elbow and hand. Her diagnosis? Hand pain.

If you’ve ever heard someone claim more Americans are injured annually by toasters or vacuum cleaners than by sharks, they were probably using this data.

It’s true, by the way – toasters were responsible for about 245 hospital visits in 2017, and vacuum cleaners for a whopping 17,762. Sharks attacked 53 people in the United States in 2016. None was fatal, according to data from the University of Florida.

By that count, more than 700 consumer products are more likely to cause injury than sharks. If you’re looking for a fun fact to whip out at a party, you could mention that windshield wiper fluid, kites, toy musical instruments and rocketry sets sent more people to emergency rooms last year than any monster from “Jaws.”

The wiper fluid incidents were mostly accidental consumption; the kite incidents from people falling over backward while running. Instrument injuries included children hitting themselves in the face, and one 30-year-old woman who accidentally inhaled a kazoo while trying to play it.

Why collect the information? It’s not just for schadenfreude: The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses injury reports to identify products that might require recalls and to evaluate whether safety standards are working as intended.

So, how do so many people get injured in bed?

A fair number simply roll out, sustaining bruises if they’re lucky and concussions if they’re not. Walking into bed frames is also a common cause of injury. But in a few cases, the story has little to do with mattresses or sheets.

One entry includes a 12-year-old boy hit during a drive-by shooting as he was lying in bed. He survived with an amputated thumb.

Children 5 and younger are most frequently injured by beds, floors, tables, stairs and sofas. You have to go down to the No. 8 spot to find something more interesting than household furniture: trampolines. Small, easily swallowed items, including tablet drugs, jewelry and coins are also high on the list.

By the time they reach school age, kids mostly hurt themselves playing sports, though there’s some difference between boys and girls.

For starters, boys are far more likely to go to the emergency room for a product-related injury. The data show 2 million emergency room visits in 2017 for boys 6-18, versus 1.34 million visits for girls the same age.

Boys most frequently are injured playing football (266,496 hospital visits), basketball (240,966 visits) and while using bicycles (108,065 visits).

For girls, basketball tops the chart, with 77,845 hospital visits. That’s followed by stairs (71,334) and soccer (61,889).

By the time those children hit their 20s, men and women diverge. Men continue to be injured playing sports, with basketball leading the list, followed by stairs and knives. For women, stairs take the top spot, followed by floors. Exercise, a broad category including equipmentless activities like running and hiking, is in third.

Only two injuries in the database list “selfie” in the narrative, one categorized under phones and the other under photographic equipment. Neither involved a teenage girl.

A 12-year-old boy hit himself in the face with a selfie stick while trying to take a photo (no loss of consciousness, the report helpfully notes, though he did cut himself).

The other? A 32-year-old man was trying to take a selfie with his son when the son poked him in the eye. Diagnosis? A corneal abrasion.


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