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by Abigail Van Buren

Balloons Make Good Decorations but Shouldn't Be Used as Toys

DEAR ABBY: I have read with interest your columns about balloons being hazardous to animals. Balloons can be an even greater hazard to small children. Please address this issue in your column. It may save a life and a lot of heartache.

I have been an emergency room nurse for 27 years. In the last three months, I have seen two children die from ingesting latex balloons. They chew, play with and put deflated (or partially deflated) balloons in their mouths. They accidentally swallow them, choke, aspirate and die.

The balloon gets stuck in the child's throat. Parents are usually unable to resuscitate these children because it's too late by the time they realize what has happened and call for help. How sad for a child to die from something that was once so cheerful.

Parents, beware. Although they are festive decorations, balloons should not be kept after a party because they make very dangerous toys. The results can be lethal. -- NANCY CORTE, R.N., CLINTON TOWNSHIP, MICH.

DEAR NANCY: Thank you for an important letter, one that may save many young lives. The day after it arrived, I received a second warning concerning balloons from a medical professional. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Thank you for standing your ground in your reply to the balloon industry regarding the dangers that balloons pose to wildlife. Latex balloons also pose a very real risk of aspiration and sudden death to children.

Consider these scenarios: The curious 1-year-old finds a latex balloon, puts it in her mouth (as she does everything else she finds) and "POP!"; she gasps and some or all of the latex shreds enter her airway. Or the active 7-year-old at a birthday party doing four things at once -- running, jumping, talking, blowing up a latex balloon. He trips, balloon in mouth, and suddenly the balloon is in his windpipe.

The nature of the material -- very light, flexible and sticky when wet -- causes it to adhere to the inside of the airway. If it happens to completely obstruct the passage of air, the child is dead within minutes.

We, and many other hospitals, have banned the use of latex balloons -- only Mylar balloons are allowed.

Now, if we can only convince people to stop using latex GLOVES as balloons to distract children while they're sitting in the waiting room ... ROBERT DIXON, M.D., EGLESTON CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, ATLANTA