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Dangers of Electric Blankets

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Many people today, in an effort to save money on high home heating bills, are opting to turn the heat down and turn the electric blanket on.  Even though this may save a bit on your heating bill and also get your bed enticingly warm and cozy before you crawl in, is this really a good idea?  Are electric blankets safe or are they hazardous to your health?  Although a bit confusing, according to prevailing research, the answers are “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

Studies conducted show that for the most part electric blankets, if used with caution and common sense, are considered safe to use for most people, as long as the manufacturer’s guidelines are carefully followed.  But there are some definite reasons to think twice before plugging in that blanket.

Potential fire hazard:

One of the potential dangers of an electric blanket is that the blanket can overheat, causing burns on the person’s body or posing a fire hazard if the blanket is not turned off immediately.  This risk of burns and fire is much higher for people who are unable to get out of bed quickly, for older people who are unable to turn their blanket off or who forget to, and for someone suffering a disability such as arthritis or paralysis.  Also, people with diabetes often lose sensation in their arms and legs and might not notice that their blanket is getting too hot or is burning them.

Safety tips when using an electric blanket:

1)   Always buy a new electric blanket rather than a used or older one.  For extra precaution, buy one with an automatic turn-off timer.  Make sure the blanket comes with a well-known and trusted manufacturer’s label, manufacturer’s guidelines and the UL (Underwriters’ Laboratories) label showing that the blanket complies with recent UL safety tests and standards.
2)   Read and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions before using your blanket.  If you have any questions or problems, contact the manufacturer directly.

3)   Lay your blanket flat on the bed.  Don’t fold or overlap, as the wires may become too close together and overheat.

4)   Regularly check your blanket for any signs of wear, frayed, bent or broken wires, frayed fabric or tape, damaged plug cord, any bunching or wadding where the wires touch each other, any scorch or burn marks on the blanket, any localized areas where the blanket feels warmer than other areas.

5)   Keep your blanket away from water and don’t use on a water bed.  Don’t use the blanket if it feels damp or wet.  Don’t launder it unless the manufacturer’s guidelines say that it is safe to do so.  Read the cleaning instructions carefully.

6)   Have your blanket checked every three years for safety and signs of wear or tear.  Your local fire department may be able to help you with this, as they often inspect blankets for their town residents.

Potential health risks:

In addition to the potential dangers posed by an overheating or malfunctioning blanket, much research has been done on the potential health risks of using an electric blanket, especially for pregnant women, young children, and older adults.  Research has looked into the potential carcinogenic threats of EMFs (electromagnetic fields) running through the wires in the blanket.  Although the electric currents in the wires apparently don’t pose a health hazard as they don’t tend to penetrate the body, the magnetic fields in the wires are not easily blocked and do penetrate the body, often for several inches.  Many researchers consider this a potential or definite risk of exposure to carcinogens.

Tips for reducing health risks:

1)   Turn the electric blanket on before bedtime to get your bed warm and toasty and then turn it off before going to sleep.  While other home appliances such as a hair dryer or toaster also produce EMFs, the daily exposure to these EMFs is short-term and not usually considered harmful.  Chronic and long-term exposure may pose a threat.  Using an electric blanket while sleeping can expose a person to EMFs for seven or eight hours at a time.

2)   Some research has found potential links between EMFs and certain cancers such as childhood leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer and others.  As research still goes back and forth on what levels of EMF exposure are safe or not, until conclusive evidence rules out any and all potential health risks, it is best to always err on the side of caution.  Limit your use if you do use an electric blanket, especially if you are elderly or incapacitated, and don’t use them for your children or if you are pregnant.  Some evidence has also shown a potential risk for people who have a pacemaker.  If you do have a pacemaker, be sure to consult with your physician first before using an electric blanket.

3)   If you just can’t give up your electric blanket, use caution and common sense.  If you tend to be forgetful, if you kick and bunch your blanket into a wad, or if your blanket is showing any signs of wear, don’t use it.  Wear some nice flannel PJs, pile on a few comforters and snuggle in.  You will be just as warm and perhaps a lot safer in the long run.

Sources:  www.ehow.com; www.cancer.gov; www.electricblanketinstitute.com; www.galttech.com; www.mercola.com

More about this author: Linda Cann Pearson

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