Study: Bunk Beds Have Built-in Risks

New research suggests bunk beds may be more dangerous than many parents believe.

ByABC News
May 30, 2008, 6:14 PM

June 2, 2008— -- Beth Slinger remembers her family's nightly ritual when her son, Reed, was almost 3 years old: story time on the top bunk of his bed. He slept on the bottom mattress, so he considered the top bunk his tree house.

One night, Reed climbed up the ladder quickly and stood up, pretending to be the red Power Ranger. The ceiling fan, which was turned on, struck the right side of his head. His parents caught him before he could fall to the floor.

Reed, who is now 14, didn't need stitches for the cut on his head, and he recovered from the incident without a scar.

"He doesn't remember much, except that the bed disappeared the day after," said Slinger, who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

The Slingers were fortunate. Other parents know all too well that what kids consider a treat or even a toy can be a hazard. Every year, bunk bed injuries require a trip to the emergency room for an estimated 36,000 Americans, ages 21 and younger, according to a study released Monday in the journal Pedatrics.

"Everybody at some point or another has probably slept in a bunk bed," said Lara McKenzie, assistant professor at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio and one of the study's researchers.

McKenzie and her colleagues were not surprised to find that children under 6 suffered nearly half of the injuries, and boys were more likely than girls to get hurt.

But they did take note of the spike in injuries for college-age kids. The 18- to 21-year-olds had double the injuries of the 14- to 17-year-olds, resulting in part from dorm life combined with alcohol use.

Laura Jana, a pediatrician in Omaha, Neb., and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, remembers witnessing a bunk bed injury in the 1980s when she was attending the University of Michigan.

"My college roommate freshman year was goofing around and fell off the top bunk," Jana said. On her way down, she hit her back on the corner of a desk, and she couldn't move, so paramedics had to carry her down five flights of stairs on a stretcher, she recalled.