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Some of the toys ophthalmologist Lt. Cmdr. Karin Thomas says are potential hazards to children are on display in the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. Thomas said several of the toys, purchased at one of the many nearby 100-yen stores, don’t meet U.S. safety standards.
Some of the toys ophthalmologist Lt. Cmdr. Karin Thomas says are potential hazards to children are on display in the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. Thomas said several of the toys, purchased at one of the many nearby 100-yen stores, don’t meet U.S. safety standards. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — With Christmas just around the corner — and December being Safe Toy and Gift Month — a U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa staff member has made it her personal goal to inform as many parents as possible of the dangers toys and other objects can present to children.

Lt. Cmdr. Karin E. Thomas, an ophthalmologist, has put up a display board in the hospital to help spread eye-safety awareness. Included on the board are several brief stories of patients she has treated for eye injuries. Thomas said about four severe child eye injuries are treated at the hospital each year, sometimes serious enough to require immediate surgery.

One story she has posted, for instance, tells of a 3-year-old boy playing with a toy helicopter. A piece shot off the toy, hitting him in the eye. It caused a “hyphema,” or bleeding in the eye, resulting in high eye pressure. Thomas said the boy was taken in for emergency surgery and after recovery, he was able to regain full vision in the eye.

Thomas said the toy helicopter was purchased at a 100-yen store. She said many of the toys sold in such stores aren’t tested rigorously, as in the States. Often, she said, packaging has no age warnings or has warnings printed only in Japanese.

“Parents need to realize that these toys can be dangerous,” Thomas said. “Parents who are looking for stocking stuffers don’t realize that toys with small parts aren’t for little Johnny.”

Wherever parents buy toys, Thomas recommends they read and follow the toys’ age recommendations.

According to the Prevent Blindness America Web site (www.preventblindness.org), more than 10,000 children younger than 14 were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related eye injuries in 2003. The injuries ranged from children tripping over toys left on the floor to flaws in toy design or materials.

If an injury does occur, Thomas said, the child should be taken immediately to a hospital emergency room. She suggested cutting out and taping the bottom half of a paper or styrofoam cup over the damaged eye to help protect it.

“The earlier you take them to the emergency room, the earlier we can take them to the operating room, and the better the outcome,” Thomas said.

Prevent Blindness America offers these holiday safety tips on its Web site:

¶ Inspect toys for safe construction. Products given to young children should be made of durable plastic or wood with no sharp edges or points. The toys should be able to withstand impact. Avoid purchasing toys with small parts for young children, as they tend to put items in their mouths, increasing their risk of choking.

¶ Check your children’s toys regularly for broken parts. Throw broken toys out immediately if they cannot be repaired safely. Older kids often alter their toys and misuse them, making them unsafe. It is better to be vigilant, even with older kids, so that serious eye injuries can be prevented.

¶ Read the instructions and the suggested age level on the packaging. Assess whether the item is appropriate for the child’s ability and age. Age labeling is provided for safety as well as developmental reasons.

¶ Look for the symbol “ASTM F963.” This indicates the product meets the national safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

¶ Recommend to family members and friends gifts you feel are appropriate for your child.

¶ Remain aware of recalled products. Large toy retailers post regular notices of recalled toys, usually at the front of stores. Take a recalled product back to the store where it were purchased for a full refund. For further information on toy and product recalls, visit the U.S. Product Safety Commission Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

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