It's the bane of any young potty trainer, and research shows it's been happening with greater frequency for over a decade. Falling toilet seats, be they of a wooden, porcelain, or plastic persuasion, have injured 100 more boys each year since 2002.

As a forewarning, doctors concede the prolonged emotional trauma of a falling toilet seat surpasses the immediate physical pain. Oftentimes the embarrassment and fear linger far longer than any physical sensation. In medical terms, these are referred to as genitourinary injuries, and they send 16,000 people a year to the emergency room.

About one in 30 genitourinary injuries involves a toilet, a fact that surprised Dr. Benjamin Breyer, M.D., the study's leader author and urologic surgeon from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, and his team of researchers.

"To us, that was striking. That was unexpected," Breyer said. "You think of the bathroom as a safe place."

Apparently, only if you're above a certain height.

Nearly 97 percent of all crush injuries — an unfortunate term referring to what happens when a toilet seat falls onto a boy's penis — occurred in children seven years old and younger.

According to a national database of injuries sustained from household products that needed emergency room (ER) attention between 2002-2010, researchers found 13,175 injuries related to the toilet or toilet seat. About 68 percent of these injuries qualified as a crush injury.

In 2010, 1,707 specific crush injuries ended up in the ER. That number is 100 instances higher than the year prior, which is 100 more than the year before that, and so on until 2002. The total could be even higher, Breyer remarked, if you consider all of the unreported crush injuries that parents treat themselves.

"This data can be the tip of the iceberg," he said, calling the current figure an "underestimation of how often this is going on."

The upside is that kids are resilient, and crush injuries heal quickly. Doctors spend more of their time treating a patient's mental health.

"The vast majority of these injuries were treated in the ER and then sent home," Breyer said. "My sense is that it's just a very traumatic and unpleasant experience to go through, but it would be important to know that there is no damage that happens to the penis or patient."

To allay a patient's fear of reoccurrence, doctors recommend alternative toilet seats, such as ones that are U-Shaped or ones that have slow-closing mechanisms. Padded toilet seats also minimize the risk of crush injuries. These seats admittedly cost more than your average porcelain or plastic lid, so their investment may yield to increased education and greater parent involvement — hopefully not for too long, though.

 

Source: Glass A, Bagga H, Tasian G. No small slam: increasing incidents of genitourinary injury from toilets and toilet seats. BJUI. 2013.