Accidental head injuries in children under 5 years of age

Clin Radiol. 2005 Apr;60(4):464-8. doi: 10.1016/j.crad.2004.09.013.


Aim: To evaluate the type and nature of head injuries sustained by children under the age of 5 years who present to a busy accident and emergency (A&E) department following an accidental fall.

Materials and methods: This study included all children under the age of 5 years, who over an 8-month period were referred to our A&E Department with head injury following an accidental fall. Data were collected regarding the height of the fall, whether or not stairs were involved, the type of surface that the child landed on and the height of the child. This was correlated with any soft-tissue injury or skull fracture.

Results: A total of 72 children (aged 4 months to 4.75 years) fulfilled all the criteria for an accidental fall. The heights of the falls ranged from less than 50 cm to over 3 m, with the majority below 1 m. Of the falls, 49 were onto a hard surface and 23 were onto a soft surface. Of the 72 children, 52 had visible evidence of head injury, 35 (71%) of 49 being the result of falls onto hard surfaces and 17 (74%) of 23 onto soft (carpeted) surfaces. There was no significant difference in the type of surface that resulted in a visible head injury. A visible head injury was seen in all children who fell from a height of over 1.5 m and in 95% of children who fell over 1 m. Of the 72 children, 32 (44%) had skull radiographs performed in accordance with established guidelines and 4 (12.5%) were identified as having a fracture. Of the 3 linear parietal fractures 2 were inflicted by falls of just over 1 m (from a work surface) and 1 by a fall of 80 to 90 cm onto the hard-edged surface of a stone fire surround. The 4th was a fracture of the base of skull following a fall from more than 3 m (from a first-storey window).

Conclusions: In the vast majority of domestic accidents children do not suffer significant harm. Skull fractures are rare and probably occur in less than 5% of cases. To cause a skull fracture the fall needs to be from over 1 m or, if from a lesser height, then a small-area impact point should be considered an integral component of the injury.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / etiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Radiography
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging
  • Skull Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Skull Fractures / etiology