Bunk bed injuries in college dorms could be avoided

(Reuters Health) - College students who live in dorms with bunk beds could avoid potential injuries by having the proper equipment for their beds and avoiding alcohol-related risks, suggests a recent U.S. study.

Students were most likely to hurt themselves while falling off the bed or jumping on or off the bed, which could be prevented, the study authors write in the journal Injury Prevention. About one-fifth of injuries involved alcohol.

“We need to get the message out to schools, sororities, fraternities and college preparatory academies with bunk beds to stop these injuries,” said lead author Dr. Randall Loder, an orthopedic surgeon at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Loder said that he and co-author Luke Momper, a medical student, have seen many bunk bed injuries at the James Whitcomb Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and have analyzed bunk bed injury data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. After studying bunk bed injuries in jails and other institutions in recent years, they decided to look at injuries among youth, particularly those that happen at schools rather than at home.

Nationally, they found a total of 639,700 emergency department visits for bunk bed injuries between 2006 and 2015. Of these, 8,200 (1.3 percent) occurred at schools.

While patients who got injured in bunk beds at home were most likely to be aged 13 years or younger, those who got injured at school were more likely to be 18 or older.

Injuries at school were also more likely than those at home to occur among girls and to be associated with alcohol. Boys injured at school had a higher proportion of lacerations while girls were more likely to have internal organ injuries.

Injuries were also more likely to occur in the lower extremities, rather on the head or neck, which is more common for younger children who tumble out of bed. More than half of arm injuries and 21 percent of leg injuries included a broken bone.

“In college dorms, students often like to put their bunks up as high as they can,” Loder said in a telephone interview. “Ideally, it’s best not to do that, but it’s difficult for students due to space issues.”

To prevent injuries, students can install rails on the top bunks, put rugs or carpets on the floor next to the bed, and make it a habit not to jump out of the top bunk. After consuming alcohol in particular, students should be careful about climbing into bed, or make plans to sleep on the bottom bunk or a couch, Loder added.

Few studies have previously investigated bunk bed injuries, though a handful seem to draw similar conclusions: college-age students tend to experience bunk bed injuries away from home, and they tend to have different injuries than younger children who simply fall out of bed.

“It is alarming that these injuries are still occurring,” said Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

“While most people think of little kids in association with bunk beds, it’s clear that more needs to be done for adolescents and young adults who sleep in bunk beds in college, prison and the military,” McKenzie, who wasn’t involved in the study, said in an email.

Federal regulations regarding bunk beds don’t apply to institutional beds featured in college dorms, prison and the military, she noted, due to the cost of compliance and low benefits. For college students in particular, it’s up to the consumers themselves to ensure their beds are safe.

For instance, college bunk beds should have guardrails that are less than five inches above the mattress top, should use the correct mattress size and shouldn’t be placed too close to ceiling fans or other ceiling fixtures. Students may be able to request or install guardrails, McKenzie said.

“When possible, think about safety when setting up your room,” she added. “Avoid building your own bunk bed or making after-market changes or stacking in ways that don’t meet manufacturer specifications.”

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, online May 31, 2018.