Child Safety: Head Injury From Toppling TVs

Child Safety: Head Injury From Toppling TVs

It’s summer and -- like every year -- we’re seeing the annual rise in children’s injuries and deaths. The most common causes are drowning (#1), followed by bike accidents, falls and motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents.

Now added to this mix is a frightening increase in the number of children who are injured at home by falling TVs. You may wonder, how does that happen?

It was a regular shift in the ER. I was trying to catch up on my computer charting when I looked up to see a mother running inside, carrying what looked like a limp and unresponsive toddler.  The nurse ran behind her, directing them into the nearest exam room.

While we hurried to connect the toddler to the monitors I asked what had happened. “I had put my son in the bedroom to watch TV,” the mom explained. “I’d just walked into another room when I heard a crash. I found my son stuck underneath the dresser that he must have pulled over. It had the TV on top of it.”

The story is all too familiar to any ER doctor -- and a recent article in Pediatrics confirmed that the numbers are rising. In the last 20 years, injuries from TVs falling on children have almost doubled.  In the U.S. today, a child is injured by a falling television every 30 minutes, and one dies from these injuries every two weeks.

What’s behind this 100% preventable tragedy?  For one, the number of TVs per household is increasing.  Where does the old boxy set go after you get your shiny new flat screen? Probably up on any old bookshelf or dresser -- maybe a bit more out of sight and parental supervision.  What’s more, furniture with drawers can represent a great “ladder” -- toddlers pull out the drawers and step into them -- putting themselves more at risk with every step.

Children under age five are most likely to be injured in this way; two-thirds of the cases involve boys.  But it’s not just toddlers and preschoolers. Kids up to age 17 have been involved in these kinds of accidents.

Head injuries such as concussion or skull fracture and neck injuries are the most common types suffered (especially in children younger than five), followed by leg injuries.

So, what can a parent do to avoid such accidents?

1. Anchor it. Bolt both the TV and the furniture that is underneath it to the wall (you can buy fasteners at home construction or electronic stores).

2. Use the right base. Keep TVs off of dressers, armoires and bookshelves not intended to house these electronics; they are more at risk of toppling.

3. Keep it low.  Children like to climb on furniture.  If you keep all TVs on sturdy, low bases, you remove much of the incentive to climb.

So what happened with my little patient? He slowly started to wake up and a CT scan showed that he had a skull fracture.  We admitted him to our children’s hospital and over time he was able to recuperate -- fortunately, he’s now back to normal.  Needless to say, his mother has made sure that this type of accident will never happen again in her home!

Like many parents, you’ve probably given little thought to where you park those heavy old TV sets. Take the steps today to keep your children safe from this surprising safety hazard.  For more information, go to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission site ( and visit the Tip-Over Information Center.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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