By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was created in 1973 to develop safety regulations for all consumer products. The CPSC spends more than half of its budget every year testing children’s toys, as well as other items on the market for children.

When buying presents for your child, choose toys that are appropriate for his age. No matter how mature you think your child is, he should not play with toys that are meant for an older age group. Age-appropriate levels for toys are determined by safety factors rather than by intellectual and developmental factors.

When choosing toys for infants, toddlers or preschoolers:

• Make sure that toys are sturdy, as children in this age group will pull and twist toys and may try to put them in their mouths.
• Make sure that squeeze toys, rattles and teethers are large enough and can’t be squeezed down small enough to become lodged in your child’s throat.
• Avoid toys with cords or long strings, because they present a strangulation hazard. Don’t hang toys with strings or ribbons in your child’s crib or playpen.
• Avoid marbles, coins, balls or games with balls that are 1 3/4 inches in diameter or smaller.
• Avoid walkers. Walkers are one of the main sources of injuries in this age group.
• Avoid thin plastic toys that can break into small pieces and leave jagged edges.
• Buy art supplies that are labeled non-toxic.

For your older child:

• Buy helmets and other safety equipment when you purchase bicycles, scooters, skateboards or skates. Turn the helmet over and look inside for CPSC or Snell stickers. Avoid buying used helmets since they may have sustained damage through use.
• Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the ends.
• Toy guns should be brightly colored so that they cannot be mistaken for real weapons. Children should be taught never to point darts, arrows or toy guns at people.
• Children younger than 16 years of age should not use BB guns or pellet rifles. Aside from the obvious risk of eye injuries, these “toy” weapons cause about four deaths per year.
• Avoid toys that make loud noises. Some toys produce noise at a level that can damage your child’s hearing, including some toy phones, horns, sirens, cap guns and musical toys.
• Electric toys are required to meet certain safety standards for construction and wiring. Look for Underwriters Laboratories labeling to be sure that they are approved. Adults should always supervise children playing with electric toys.

When buying toys online remember that Web sites are not required to post safety warnings associated with toys. Some toys sold on the Internet may not be required to comply with toy regulations in the United States. If buying discounted toys or toys on auction sites, be sure to check to see if the item has been recalled by the CPSC.

For the latest information about toy recalls, or to report an unsafe toy, go to the CPSC Web site, www.cpsc.gov, or call their hotline at (800) 638-2772. If you have any concerns about whether a toy is safe for your child, do not let your child play with it.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.