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February 3, 2000

By Todd Smith

A Dangerous Party Guest - Balloons Can Cause Severe Injury, Illness or Even Death

Miami, FL (SafetyAlerts) - Colorful balloons create a festive atmosphere for almost any celebration, but did you know they also cause severe injury, illness or even death to both children and adults?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), of all children's products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death.

Since 1973, more than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons. Most of the victims were under six years of age, but the CPSC does know of several older children who have suffocated on balloons.

Suffocation hazards involving balloons tend to occur in two ways: Some children have sucked uninflated balloons into their mouths, often while attempting to inflate them, while others have drawn pieces of broken balloons that they were playing with into their throats causing a restriction of the airway.

If a balloon breaks and is not discarded some children may continue to play with it, chewing on pieces of the balloon or attempting to stretch it across their mouths and suck or blow bubbles in it. These balloon pieces are easily sucked into the throat and lungs. Balloons mold to the throat and lungs and can completely block breathing.

Because of this hazard, one children's hospital in Iowa no longer allows balloons to be given as gifts or for use as decorations at hospital events.

Beyond the potential for suffocation, balloons may also cause severe injuries to the eyes and face when they pop.

SafetyAlerts recently recieved a note from a subscriber who stated "A friend's little boy was playing with a balloon and bit it. It broke in his face and snapped him in the eye... He was in the hospital for several weeks and had a very real possibility of loosing site in his eye."

Injuries like these may not be uncommon.   There are a variety of eye injuries that have been associated with balloons. 

If a balloon pops right in front of the eye, it can cause a corneal abrasion (scratch on the cornea of the eye), which needs treatment since it can lead to infection and scarring.  Other eye injuries may include a hyphema (bleeding into the eye in a place called the anterior chamber), which can cause problems such as glaucoma.  Popping balloons can also cause a contusion to the eye or the face.

Balloons are frequently thought of as children's toys or decorations, but because of the potential for problems in vision, infection and so on, even minor injuries may very well require medical attention.

Balloons can also be an excellent avenue to pass on germs and disease.  Never put a balloon in or on your mouth after another person has done so. There is nothing like fresh saliva to transmit germs.  You risk not only usual flu and cold bugs, but, also more sever illnesses such as Hepatitis A or Herpes Simplex I.

Other tips that may help prevent injury from balloons are:

  • While inflating, always hold the balloon with the palm outwards, back of the hand above the mouth and shielding the eyes.
  • Hang balloons high enough so children cannot reach them.
  • Keep a close eye on children who may be holding balloons and make sure they know not to place the balloon in their mouths or near the face.
  • If a balloon breaks, immediately collect the pieces and discard them.  Never let children play with an uninflated or broken balloon.

Balloons can still be a part of your celebrations, but caution, awareness and vigilance are needed to help keep everyone safe and healthy.

Selected Recent Recalls

Health Professional:

Did you know?
During 2000 there were over
1050 products recalled in the United
States for safety reasons!

How many did you hear about?

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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources that the Company believes to be reliable, however, the Company has not independently verified or confirmed the information and the recipient acknowledges that no representations or warranties are being made in connection with the use of the information.