Bicycle Helmets: Best Piece Of Armor In Fight Against Summer Injuries

Parents can prevent serious injury, death of children by establishing rules early

DAYTON, Ohio (July 2, 2013) – There are a lot of things parents can’t control when it comes to protecting their children from harm and sickness. Still, every so often they have the ability to teach their kids habits that could mean the difference between life and death, and wearing a bicycle helmet is one of them.

“Wearing a bicycle helmet has a huge impact on whether you scrape your knee or whether you end up with brain damage for the rest of your life,” said Anessa Alappatt, MD, with Fairborn Medical Center a Premier HealthNet practice. “It is such a simple thing (to wear a helmet), and should be seen just as harmful as not having your child wear a seatbelt in the car.”

Dr. Alappatt’s passion about bicycle helmet education is both personal and professional. She knows the desire parents have to protect their children as a mother of four. And as a physician, she has seen the impact a quick decision not to wear a helmet can have on a child. One of her patients is now living with brain damage after being in a bicycle accident without the protection of a helmet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 33 million children in the U.S. ride bicycles nearly 10 million hours each year. Unfortunately, an average of 384 children die annually from bicycle crashes, and 450,000 more are treated in emergency rooms for bike-related injuries. About 153,000 of those children seen in emergency rooms are treated for bicycle-related head injuries.

Bicycle helmets are a proven intervention that reduces the risk of bicycle-related head injury by about 80 percent, yet bike helmets are not worn by most riders, the CDC found. Only 15 percent of children use helmets all or most of the time while cycling. Universal use of bike helmets by children aged four through 15 years old would prevent between 135 and 155 deaths, between 39,000 and 45,000 head injuries, and between 18,000 and 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually, the CDC stated.

American children love to ride bicycles, especially in warmer months and teaching a child proper bicycle etiquette – including wearing a helmet and learning hand signals – is among the top things parents should consider when it comes to summer safety. Other areas parents should keep in mind include safety rules pertaining to swimming pools, recreational trampolines, campfires, use of sunscreen and proper hydration during particularly warm days, Dr. Alappatt said.

“Over the summer months, there are many things we can do,” she said. “We can reduce the risk of skin cancer with sunscreen, we can help prevent head injuries with bicycle helmets – we can help our kids just by making sure they are properly supervised. There are so many bad things that can happen that we can’t control, but there are also a lot of things we can do to make a difference for our children.”

Dr. Alappatt said parents often believe the misconception that bicycle helmets are not a necessary part of riding a bike, especially if a child is riding around a neighborhood. Some parents may also believe helmets don’t make much of a difference since it was not a routine widely encouraged when they were children. However, nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the CDC estimates that if a presumed helmet-use rate of 10 percent during 1984 to 1988 had been increased to 100 percent, an average of 500 fatal and more than 150,000 nonfatal bicycle-related head injuries may have been avoided each year.

One of the best ways parents can teach their kids to consistently wear their bicycle helmet is to establish it as a routine from the beginning. That way it will be a natural part of riding their bike regardless of how old they get, Dr. Alappatt said.

Summer can be the carefree time it was meant to be as long as parents play their part in keeping their kids safe.

View frequently asked questions about pediatric health


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