Toppling televisions can severely injure or even kill small children, especially toddlers— and these accidents are likely to become more common because today's larger, thinner TVs are more easily toppled when not mounted properly, researchers say.
"The vast majority (of these accidents) are preventable with very simple measures to avoid these events, which are always tragic," lead author Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, told Reuters Health by phone.
Parents and grandparents grew up in a time when TVs were sturdier, a piece of furniture in their own right, so they do not think of TVs as being a hazard in the home, Cusimano said.
The researchers considered 29 studies from seven countries analyzing TV-related head and neck injuries. More than 80 percent of reported injuries occurred at home, and three-fourths of the incidents were not witnessed by adult caregivers.
One study of U.S. hospitals reported 42,000 TV-toppling injuries between 1998 and 2007.
Often the TVs involved were large and elevated off the ground on furniture not designed to support TVs, like dressers.
The worst injuries, those to the head and neck, are most common among toddlers age one to three, and may require brain imaging or surgery.
Almost all reported deaths were due to brain injuries.
"It's definitely something that we see as pediatric neurosurgeons," said Dr. John C. Wellons of Vanderbilt University Medical System in Nashville, Tennessee.
Wellons coauthored an editorial accompanying the new review in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.
A crush injury to a 2-year-old's head can require surgery and cause long term brain function issues, Wellons told Reuters Health by phone.
"Once you get the TV out of the box, make sure it's stable, place it in a way that a toddler cannot pull it down on top of them, connect it to the wall so that it cannot move forward," he said.
Desktop computer screens are less hazardous as they are usually on a desk pushed back against the wall, he said.
"There are simple things we can do with the child, with the TV and with the environment," to reduce risk, Cusimano said.
Children should be supervised when they are in the room with a TV, he said.
"If that's not possible, then restrict play areas where they will be out of harm's way," he said.
Caregivers should be mindful of not putting toys or bright objects near the TV that may encourage climbing, he said.
Securely mounting the TV to a wall also reduces injury risk. Manufacturers should make it as easy as possibly to safely mount their TVs, Cusimano said.
"The problem will continue to increase globally as economies and technologies improve," he said.
In the U.S., 99 percent of households have a TV, and toddlers spend an average of 32 hours per week in front of it, he said.