Bunk bed study proves eye-opening

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent


Raising awareness about bunk bed injuries

Bumps and bruises are part of the game for 14-year-old Reed, a goal-driven hockey player. But years ago, Reed gave his mom, Beth, quite a scare when he was injured someplace completely unexpected-his own bed.

"Everyone wants to feel safe and secure while sleeping, yet bunk beds are a common source of injury among children and adolescents," said Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., M.A., principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Reed was almost 3 years old when he climbed to the top bunk and ended up at an urgent care center because of a commonly missed safety hazard. "The ceiling fan was at a pretty low speed and cracked him right in the forehead," said Beth.

A recent study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's found that bunk bed related injuries are actually quite common and often result in hospitalization. Around 573,000 children and adolescents, ages 21 years and under, were treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for bunk bed related injuries throughout this 16-year study.

Luckily, Reed recovered from the accident without stitches and was left with a bandage on his forehead, but he has not returned to bunk beds since. Shortly after his injury, his mother decided to do away with the bunk bed. "It just never crossed my mind that he would be injured in this way," Beth explained. "I was more concerned with him falling."

Removing hazardous objects from around bunk beds and keeping bunk beds clear of ceiling fans or other ceiling fixtures are recommended strategies for preventing bunk bed injuries. McKenzie also recommends that guard rails be present on all sides of the bunk bed and, most importantly, that children under the age of 6 years not sleep on the top bunk.

Reed was too young to remember his trip to urgent care, but his mother will never forget. Today, they both have a better understanding of the injury risk posed by bunk beds and they hope that by sharing Reed's story, they will help prevent future injuries to other children and adolescents.

PEDIATRIC ADVANCEMENTS: Bunk bed injuries more common in young adults

Young children are not the only ones who are at risk with bunk bed safety. According to a recent study conducted by researchers Gary Smith, M.D., Ph.D. and Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., M.A., from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, bunk bed related injuries are becoming more common among young adults.

The study, published in the June issue of Pediatrics, found individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 experienced twice as many injuries as adolescents in the 14- to 17-year-old age group. The reason for this finding is unknown; however, due to the increased use of bunk beds in institutional settings, such as college dormitories and in the military, the injury rate could have increased for several reasons. Older children were also found to be more likely to be injured due to bed malfunction than younger children. A possible explanation could be their larger size and greater weight.

Bunk bed injuries commonly result from falls. The most common bunk bed related injuries include lacerations, contusions/abrasions and fractures.

FAST FACTS: Tips to help prevent bunk bed injuries

  • Guardrails should be present on all sides of upper bunk.
  • Guardrail gaps must be 3.5 inches or less.
  • Ensure the mattress foundation is secure and the proper size.
  • Do not permit children under 6 years old to sleep on the upper bunk.
  • Discourage children from playing on bunk beds.
  • Use night lights to help children see the ladder when it's dark.
  • Remove hazardous objects, such as ceiling fans or fixtures, from around the bed.
  • Do not make changes or alterations that could negate safety standards.

Most common types of injuries result from:

  1. Falls
  2. Strikes or hits
  3. Jumping
  4. Ladders
  5. Bed malfunctions
  6. Entrapment