What causes pediatric injury?

NICHD research related to pediatric injury and trauma includes both fatal and non-fatal childhood injuries.

These studies include the type of care the child receives at the scene, in emergency departments, and in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at children’s hospitals; how parents and families receive information about the injury; common medical and care practices within the PICU; and the processes of treatment and recovery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the federal government resource for statistics about common causes of pediatric injury. Visit CDC’s Safe Child website and its Vital Signs: Child Injury issue for more details. NICHD does not collect national statistics and should not be cited as the source for statistical information.

Some common causes of non-fatal pediatric injury, as reported by CDC, include1,2:

  • Motor vehicle crashes3: According to CDC, nearly 150 children ages 0 to 19 are treated every hour in U.S. emergency departments for crash-related injuries.
  • Suffocation (being unable to breathe): This category includes strangulation and choking on food and other objects.
    • Accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed (ASSB) is a leading cause of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID), a category of causes of death that includes previously called sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). CDC notes that about 26% of all SUID in in 2017 resulted from ASSB.4 You can learn more about SIDS and SUID from the NICHD-led Safe to Sleep® campaign.
    • Injuries have also been reported from improper use of infant sitting devices, such as car seats, swings, and bouncers—especially when they are used for routine sleep.5
  • Drowning: CDC notes that about one-half of children treated for drowning in emergency departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care, and many are left with permanent disabilities from brain injuries.6
  • Poisoning: Common sources of poisoning include household cleaners and medicines.7
  • Burns8: According to CDC:
    • Younger children are more likely to be burned by hot liquids or steam.
    • Older children are more likely to be burned from direct contact with fire.
  • Falls: CDC reports that falls are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries for children ages 0 to 19.9
  • Violence: According to CDC, about 1,300 young people are treated in emergency departments each day for nonfatal assault injuries.10

Please note that causes of nonfatal pediatric injury are not necessarily the same as causes of fatal pediatric injuries. Injuries resulting from the causes listed here can be fatal, but they are not necessarily the most common causes of pediatric death. CDC has information on pediatric death.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission website also offers product safety information, recommendations and warnings, and recalls of unsafe products.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website provides information on child safety, pedestrian safety, teen driving, and other resources related to traffic-related injuries and injury prevention.


  1. CDC. (2018). 10 leading causes of injury deaths by age group highlighting unintentional injury deaths, United States—2017. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_unintentional_2017_1100w850h.jpg (JPG 301 KB)
  2. CDC. (2019). Nonfatal injury data: Leading causes of nonfatal injury reports, 19992017. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead.html
  3. CDC. (2019). Road traffic safety. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/road_traffic_injuries/index.html
  4. CDC. (2019). Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Data and statistics. Retrieved January 21, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/sids/data.htm#breakdown
  5. Liaw, P., Moon, R. Y., Han, A., & Colvin, J. D. (2019). Infant deaths in sitting devices. Pediatrics, 144(1), e20182576. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/1/e20182576 external link
  6. CDC. (n.d.). A National Action Plan for Child Injury Prevention: Reducing Drowning Injuries in Children (PDF 1.1 MB). Retrieved January 21, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/pdf/NAP_Drowning_Injuries-a.pdf (PDF 1 MB)
  7. CDC. (2019). Poisoning prevention. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/poisoning/index.html
  8. CDC. (2019). Burn prevention. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/burns/index.html
  9. CDC. (2019). Fall prevention. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/falls/index.html
  10. CDC. (2019). Violence prevention: Preventing youth violence. Retrieved January 21, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/fastfact.html
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