Anything that pertains to brain health is a top priority. Your brain controls everything you do; hence, an injured brain can ultimately affect your entire body. March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month, so your healthcare team at Sunshine Community Health Center wants to help you understand brain injury prevention, causes, treatment, and rehabilitation.
What is a brain injury?
The phrase already speaks for itself. Traumatic brain injury (also known as TBI) is damage to the brain that occurs after a sharp blow to the head. TBI does not happen during a stroke or because of a tumor. It is challenging to assess the severity of a head injury just by looking at it. Some are minor with a lot of bleeding; while more severe injuries may not bleed at all. As an example, an athlete might get hit in the head and walk away. People with concussions do not always lose consciousness, so it is critical to have a head injury checked by a doctor immediately.
Causes of Brain Injury
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the leading cause of head injuries is a fall, followed by car accidents, then being hit in the head by a hard object, which could be anything from an intentional physical assault to a sport-related accident. Protective gear such as a helmet can minimize impact damage to your head in sports as well as from a bicycle or motorcycle crash.
Another cause prevalent among children and infants, yet not unheard-of with adults, is being physically shaken. This action effectively slams the brain back and forth inside the skull. It doesn’t take as much force as you might think to cause irreparable harm to an innocent child. Even if you do not have or care for young children, please take a moment to learn more through the link below.
Types of Injuries
Our brain is made up of soft delicate tissues; this is why the protective covering of the brain (the skull) is designed to be hard enough to protect it from potential injuries. However, our skull can only do so much. In the event of a crash, the skull can crack, split or break and possibly damage brain tissue. A vigorous or sudden shaking may cause the brain to move violently within the skull, causing injury.
Closed injuries mean that there are no visible wounds or bleeding, but the impact of a crash caused the head (and the brain within it) to move violently, throwing the brain from one side of the skull to the other, causing injury. A typical example of this scenario is a vehicular accident where a victim suffers whiplash: the sudden, forceful movement of the head first forward, then backward.
An open injury means the other protective layers and the skull are exposed. Wounds to the head and bleeding are visible, and the skull or a part of the brain is exposed. A typical example of an open injury is a gunshot wound to the head.
Crushing Head Injury
Crushing injuries occur when the brain is squeezed within the skull, which may damage the brain and/or brain stem, which is located at the base of the skull or back of the neck. This is the most life-threatening and most damaging of all head injuries because it can completely impair bodily functions. Since crushing brain injuries are not as common as the closed- and open-injury varieties, treatment, and rehabilitation is far less advanced. Some probable causes of crushing brain injury could be a terrible car accident or being hit with a blunt object.
Brain cells die within five minutes of oxygen deprivation. This is called hypoxia (when there is little supply of oxygen) and anoxia (no supply of oxygen). These are caused by the following:
- cardiac arrest
- head trauma
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- complications of general anesthesia
Recovering from hypoxia or anoxia will depend on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen and how much damage the brain had. If the damage is too great the possibility of coma or brain death is higher.
Symptoms and Severity
The severity of a head or brain injury is decided by the extent of damage to the brain itself, rather than the severity of symptoms. Brain scans can determine the extent of damage and more accurately predict long-term effects like the level of memory loss or depth of a coma.
Symptoms of minor brain injuries could include the following:
- blurred vision
- alterations of senses
While symptoms of severe brain injury can cause any of the following:
- dilated pupils
- numbness of the extremities and limbs
The treatment of a traumatic brain injury depends on many factors, which includes:
- how the damaged occurred
- which part of the brain is affected
- the severity of the damage
Immediate medical attention is critical for moderate to severe injuries, as any damage that is caused internally as the result of the external accident cannot be reversed.
Helmets protect your head from a concussion by absorbing the shock and spreading the effect of a blow over the entire helmet. Headgear that shatters on impact is actually doing exactly the right thing – it breaks to prevent that force from doing the same thing to your skull. Getting the right helmet for each activity or sport just might save your life.
Rehabilitation for people who suffer brain injuries depends on the extent and severity of the damage; this will also determine the type of rehabilitation that a person needs to regain full brain function. Learn more about traumatic brain injury recovery here.