NBC News
updated 2/14/2004 6:08:27 PM ET 2004-02-14T23:08:27

If the colder weather has you thinking about buying cotton flannel nightgowns and baggy pajamas for your kids, be careful. NBC Chief Consumer Correspondent Lea Thompson has some warnings about PJ's.

“A spark or an open flame can cause a piece of cotton sleepwear to explode and burn up in 15 seconds,” says Dr. David Herndon, who heads Galveston Shriners Hospital, the country's largest pediatric burn center.

He says wearing the wrong thing to bed -- like a baggy cotton shirt -- can ruin a child's life.

“We can never make a child that's been burnt visibly, like they were before,” says Dr. Herdon.

Soft, cuddly cotton has always been popular with parents but a video from the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows what can happen when a loose-fitting, 100 percent cotton shirt comes into contact with fire. 

For that reason, the agency passed a regulation more than 30 years ago that mandated manufacturers treat children's sleepwear -- pajamas, nightgowns and robes -- with flame resistant chemicals. But in 1996, under industry pressure, the government changed the rules, allowing untreated pajamas, as long as they were snug-fitting.

Sadly though, since the law was relaxed, some major burn centerssay they've seen a huge increase in burn injuries.

“When I think of the individuals, though, that I treated, that had sleepwear related injuries in unprotected clothing after the law had changed, that tragedy became very personal and devastates me as I think about it now,” says Dr. Herdon. “We can attribute significant number of the injuries directly to sleepwear alone.”

The government has not seen that same rise in injuries, but many question the government's figures. A new reporting center has been created to study the issue. 

No matter what the standards are, set your own at home. Many believe you should always dress your children in sleepwear marked flame resistant before you tuck them in at night.

Statistics show many sleepwear burns occurearly in the morning when kids are unsupervised. Keep those matches and batteries out of sight, and make sure your smoke detectors are working.

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