Brain injury in kids linked to common household items

When you think of traumatic brain injury (TBI), also called acquired brain injury, you may think of motor vehicle crashes or sports injuries –– but everyday items such as beds and car seats can contribute to TBI in children.

When you think of traumatic brain injury (TBI), also called acquired brain injury (ABI), you may think of car crashes or sports injuries. However, a recent study shows that common home furnishings and fixtures are also frequently associated with TBI in children.

TBI is an acquired brain injury that happens when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. It can be caused by the head suddenly and violently hitting an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. TBI symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe depending on how much damage the brain experienced during the trauma.

Everyday items and children at play can contribute to brain injury

The study, published in the journal Brain Injury in September 2019, shows that 72% of TBI-related emergency department visits resulted from common products and places inside the home, including furnishings. The top 10 things associated with TBI in children under 19 are:

The study examined data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program of approximately 4.1 million nonfatal TBIs in children and teens in the U.S. between 2010 and 2013.

The data showed the most common product groups related to TBI included:

  • Sports and recreation: 28.8%
  • Home furnishings and fixtures: 17.2%
  • Home structures and construction materials: 17.1%
  • Child nursery equipment: 2.7%
  • Toys: 2.4%

Has your child been diagnosed with a concussion?

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that between 1.1 million and 1.9 million children and teens are treated for recreational or sports-related concussions in the United States every year, but the actual number likely is higher.

Download the “Concussion Recovery Book for Families”.

Younger children spend more time inside the home than older children, and that is reflected in the data. TBI from home furnishings and fixtures were highest in infants and children up to age 4. Sports and recreation-related TBI was highest in children ages 5 to 19. Car seats were the fifth-leading cause of TBI in infants.

“Car seats are safe when properly installed in cars,” Sharon Rengers, manager with Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness said. “However, if a parent uses a car seat as a baby carrier, it can pose a safety risk of the child falling from wherever the car seat is placed.”

Often, these car seats are placed in unsafe places “just for a moment” — like on the edge of a counter or table — which is all it takes.

How to spot TBI in your child to get help fast

If your child has an accident of any type involving the head, it’s important to watch them closely for any changes that could be related to a mild, moderate or severe brain injury.

Mild symptoms

  • Brief loss of consciousness (few seconds or minutes) or may remain conscious
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision or tired eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Change in sleep pattern
  • Behavioral or mood changes, fussiness
  • Issues with memory, concentration, attention or thinking.

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Moderate or severe symptoms

A child with a moderate or severe TBI may show the same symptoms as above along with:

  • Headache that gets worse or does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • An inability to awaken from sleep
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or numbness in the extremities
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation

TBI treatment

“No two instances of TBI are the same, therefore, no two TBI recoveries are the same,” said Ian S. Mutchnick, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon with Norton Children’s Neurosurgery. “We, as health care professionals, have to give families as much information as they need to move through this process.

“Brain injuries are frightening and can require major adjustments to family life. The brain is our most important organ, so taking good care of an injured brain is worth the effort. The good news is that with the right care and attention, your child can recover from a TBI, depending on the circumstances.”