Balloon dangers

There are a few genuine dangers posed by balloons - we are probably all aware of the little warning label that appears on packets of balloons which tell us to keep an eye on kids to make sure they don't choke on them - well that's not quite the full story so here are a few more cautionary tales.

The Department of Trade and Industry ( UK ) has kindly sent me details of some 10,000 accidents where balloons were involved in one way or another - but while chatting with the helpful man from the DTI, he revealed that most of these accidents happened to children under the age of 10 years, and that accidents involving people above that age were few and far between. The balloon industry doesn't seem to have realized this - and the general public seem to have missed the point as well. A short while ago the 'standard' warning on a bag of balloons advised parental supervision of children of the age of six or less - then there was an unfortunate incident where a child of seven was severely and permanently damaged when a balloon got trapped in her larynx - not only that - a parent's attempt to give 'the kiss of life' was only inflating and deflating the balloon and not providing any oxygen to the unfortunate child. The parents set about suing the company who packaged the balloons stating that the warning label was insufficient. The balloon supply industry responded by changing the age on the warning label to eight.

There are a number of things to note here - there is no age limit for choking on a balloon - a great grandfather of 106 years can choke on a balloon if he is careless enough - with the best will in the world, there will always be accidents however careful we are.

And then there are the things that are truly unforseeable - a few years back, a young lady was blowing up a balloon for a party and felt a little faint and soon afterwards passed out. The emergency services were called but she died before they arrived - and there was nothing they could have done anyway - she had suffered a cranial embolism - a blood vessel had burst in her brain which had proved almost immediately fatal. There is not normally any way to tell if anyone is going to succumb to something like this - it just happens out of the blue.

Then there are people who enjoy blowing up a balloon until it pops - sometimes a piece of balloon can snap across areas of the face and close to eyes - popping with any other part of the body could result in similar damage.

So here is some advice that hopefully will keep you safe when playing with balloons. Young people should be supervised - anyone of any age who just might ingest or inhale a balloon or a part of a balloon should be supervised - remove parts of popped balloons from a kid's party area as soon as possible. If you feel faint while blowing up a balloon - stop just in case - and don't use more pressure than you are comfortable with - if the balloon is tough to blow then use a pump or go play with something else. Be careful when decorating a room with balloons - most balloon related accidents involve people falling from places they shouldn't have been standing on in the first place. Keep balloons away from eyes and ears - particularly with young children - a balloon popping violently close to a small child is about the easiest way to give the child a phobia that will prevent the enjoyment of parties and allow other children to be very nasty to your child when you are not looking - ok that sounds silly and over the top... but I can assure you that it can be quite devastating.

Professional balloon 'twisters' - those folks who make animals and hats from modelling balloons - can get repetitive strain injuries and they have to be careful to keep their cheeks tight and not to inflate them if they are not using a pump - modelling balloons can be hard to inflate by mouth - permanent damage can be done to the cheeks in the same way that playing a trumpet can do.

An allergy to latex is so very rare that most cases have been too poorly documented to be truly meaningful. It is unclear if the allergy is to the latex itself or to the additives that are used for a variety of purposes during balloon ( and glove ) manufacture. My own theory is that there could easily be a reaction to the 'coagulant' used in modern balloon production - this chemical should be washed away at the final stage of manufacture - incomplete washing could leave a powder coating on the balloon which would be visually indistinguishable from any talcum added to prevent the balloons from sticking together. The most violent reaction would be anaphalactic shock. There appears to be an implication that people who have an allergy to nuts could also be allergic to latex in some degree.

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