Christmas warning on toddlers and hair straighteners

DOCTORS have warned of the dangers of hair straighteners after a near doubling of burns cases in children - and Christmas is the peak time for accidents.

Children are up to three times more likely to be injured in the weeks after Christmas, according new research conducted in the United Kingdom.

Most of the children injured were aged under two, and in most cases, the straighteners, which can reach temperatures of up to 220C - more than twice as hot as a cup of tea - belonged to a parent or sibling.

The researchers say that owners need to be better informed about handling the devices, and that straighteners should be placed in heat-resistant pouches after use to minimise the risk of burns.

Hair straighteners have become a popular and relatively inexpensive household appliance, making it possible to achieve at home the fashionable glossy straight styles perfected by professional salons.

"Hair-straightening devices can cause significant, 'full-thickness' injuries,'' says Dr Julia Sarginson, who led the research at the regional paediatric burns service at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital.

"Our study shows that infants and toddlers are at most risk, and these are preventable burns that warrant our attention.''

The researchers, whose findings appear in Burns journal, say that straighteners have become more popular over the past decade because of increased availability, a fall in prices, and the fashion for straight hair. 

A potential hazard is that the plates can reach temperatures in excess of 200C, much hotter than other household appliances, including an iron, at 180C.

A further hazard is the length of time it takes for the devices to cool after use; the researchers say that straighteners can cause burns up to 15 minutes after being turned off.

The South West Regional Paediatric Burns Centre in Bristol - one of four specialist burns units in the UK, looked at the growing number of cases and the damage caused. Doctors found that there had been 155 cases admitted over a five-year period, and that the number of cases had increased from 20 to 45 a year. Eight of the cases were so serious that they required skin grafts.

Seven out of 10 of the injuries were in children under two, and the average age for injured children under five was 17 months for boys and 21 months for girls. Almost half the burns happened as curious toddlers touched or grabbed straighteners.

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