Sports injuries, car accidents, and falls are some common reasons a person may suffer from a traumatic head injury. A traumatic head injury is any injury that affects the skull or the head. They’re surprisingly common, with as many as two million people suffering from such an injury every year. Most of these people will recover without adverse effect. Sadly, however, some 52,000 people succumb to traumatic brain injuries annually.
Brain injury levels can range from mild to severe:
- Mild – No loss of consciousness or loss of consciousness not exceeding 30 minutes
- Moderate – Loss of consciousness that usually lasts several hours. Typically, behavioral, physical, and cognitive impairments are present
- Severe – Loss of consciousness for several days or more (coma), cognitive, behavioral, and physical changes are present. Permanent brain damage is not a certainty but may occur
Physicians generally categorize these injuries using the Glasgow Coma Scale to determine the severity of brain injury someone has suffered.
Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury may be subtle. At times, they may not even appear for days or weeks following the injury. The first 24 hours after an injury are the most important, and if the following signs are present, emergency medical help should be sought.
- Loss of consciousness: Any loss of consciousness, no matter the duration, should prompt seeking medical attention
- Being hard to awaken or feeling extremely drowsy
- Convulsions or seizures
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clear fluid seeping from nose or ears
- Slurred speech, weakness of limbs or face, loss of balance
People who have suffered a traumatic brain injury usually display symptoms immediately following the injury:
- Blurred vision or “seeing stars”
- Ringing in ears
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions
These symptoms should be monitored. If they do not resolve over time, make an appointment with the doctor.
Infants and toddlers may display other symptoms. Since they are unable to articulate that their head may hurt, pay particular care to these symptoms, especially in young children:
- Any of the symptoms in the first list
- The child is unable to stop crying and cannot be consoled
- Changes in eating patterns, refusing to nurse
In some cases, repeated blows to the head or head injuries can lead to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is a progressive condition with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These can include cognition problems, motor disorders, problems with impulse control, depression, confusion, and irritability. CTE is common in professional sports like boxing, football, and wrestling.
These are some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for following a head injury. Remember, better safe than sorry, and if you feel like a head injury requires medical assistance, go to a hospital or schedule an appointment with your doctor.