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By Leigh Goessl

What are the most common causes of TBI in toddlers?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a life-altering kind of injury. For a long time TBI was referred to as the “silent epidemic” because of its tendency to not be instantly recognized when it occurs. TBI can, and does, happen to people at any age, but children are vulnerable due to the types of trauma they can experience.

TBI is a leading cause of death of American children, according to the Brain Injury Association of America.

Toddlers and traumatic brain injuries

Toddlers are susceptible to head injuries because they cannot control the movement of their heads as well as adults are able to. Additionally, the neck muscles of toddlers are still growing and, since a small child’s head is proportionally larger than the body, this can throw a young child’s center of gravity off.

Brain injury in toddlers most frequently occurs from a blow to the head. The blow can occur from a fall, car accident, child abuse and more specific abuses, such as shaken baby syndrome (SBS). WebMD notes, “The more force that is involved in a head injury, the more likely it is that a serious injury to the brain has occurred.”


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls cause 55 percent of all TBIs among children aged 0 to 14 years. For toddlers, completely child proofing the home can help reduce the risk of injury from a fall.

Car accidents

Car accidents also can result in a brain injury; however, by using proper restraints that are both age-appropriate and meet governmental safety standards, the chance of injury in the event of a car accident is significantly decreased.

Child abuse

The Center for Head Injury Services reports that child abuse is the cause of 64 percent of infant head injuries. Other statistics given by the Brain Injury Association note that approximately 1,300 children a year in the United States sustain a severe or fatal head trauma directly caused by abuse.

Seriousness of TBI

While many head injuries are minor and do not result in a TBI, some head injuries have lifelong effects and, because of this, any trauma to the head should be taken as potentially serious. Even a concussion can result in ongoing issues with a child who has been injured. Parents/caregivers should look out for warning signs in the 24-hour period post-injury.

Some warning signs of TBI in children include the following:

  • Being easily tired, listlessness
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Crankiness and increased irritability
  • Loss of interest in favorite toys and activities
  • Unsteady walking and loss of balance in movement

Other things to watch for are behavioral outbursts and other personality changes, as it is common for these to happen with a head injury. The Mayo Clinic recommends that emergency room treatment be sought if the child has vomited, is disoriented, has changes in coordination, exhibits slurred speech, has changes in breathing patterns, shows eye disturbances (watch the pupils), exhibits dizziness, or has any fluid or blood running from the nose or ears.

Ways to help reduce the chance of a brain injury occurring in toddlers are to childproof the home and make sure the child always wears proper age-appropriate restraints in cars and a helmet when riding a bike or other activity where the head could potentially be injured. Due to the seriousness of TBI, if medical treatment is necessary, the earlier it is obtained, the better the chances are for recovery. It is always a good idea to seek the opinion of the child’s pediatrician and follow the doctor’s advice in situations where a child’s head has been injured.

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