More than 17,000 genital injuries tied to zippers

Levi Strauss & Co.

Zippers may have revolutionized our clothing since they were introduced in 1913, but they're also the leading cause of penile injuries requiring an ER visit for adults, according to a new study.

A study published in a recent issue of a British urology journal BJU International found 17,616 people went to the emergency room between 2002 and 2010 for genital injuries caused by zippers.

The majority of the patients were men under the age of 18, the study found. Zipper-related injuries accounted for 20 percent of all recorded penile injuries during this time. However, five women also experienced labia or vaginal harm because of zippers, researchers found. Eleven cases involved bacterial infections called penile cellulitis or abscesses. For young boys, the most common cause of penile injury was getting smashed by the toilet seat lid, the authors noted, but zippers came in second.

The information may sound like late night fodder, but lead author Herman Singh Bagga, a University of California San Francisco urology resident, told that he compiled the data because not many ER physicians expect this problem and know how to treat it. Bagga himself had caught himself in this predicament, he admitted.

"This is a pain issue. It can completely ruin your night," he said.

If you find yourself stuck in this situation, Bagga said that permanent damage is very rare. Some cases do require surgery, but the most dangerous side effect was that many cases resulted in infection, especially because bacteria could be found on the zipper.

"It's important once you get it out from the zipper that it's washed well, and you use a little antibiotic ointment," he said. "Keep an eye on it. That's another reason to solicit medical attention."

Dr. Steven M. Selbst, professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, said at a 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics meeting that it's important not to scare a patient off with the sight of wire cutters. He also recommended the use of an antibiotic and to alert the patient and their parents about the risk of infection.

"You want to just pour mineral oil all over the patient's genitalia and the zipper. Be generous -- that's the key. This is pretty cheap stuff. Then let the patient sit there for 20 or 30 minutes. Pack him in a room somewhere. When you come back, the foreskin will have simply slipped out of that zipper, although in some cases you may need a cotton swab to help it along a bit," he said at the meeting, Pediatric News reported.