MountainView Hospital - April 13, 2020

What is a traumatic brain injury (TBI)

As the quarantine continues, more and more of us are finding creative ways to get active. With gyms and fitness centers closed and the struggles of being cooped up inside, people are resorting to being outdoors and picking up hobbies such as running or riding bikes with the family. That is why knowing about traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how to prevent it is important now more than ever. Simple tasks such as wearing a helmet or having comfortable and safe shoes and equipment will help prevent falls or injury and can severely reduce your chances of a TBI.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), is caused by an impact or force to the head or body or a penetrating injury to the head and according to the CDC affects millions of U.S. persons each year. Falls are a leading mechanism of TBI, and older adults are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI and experiencing TBI-associated adverse outcomes. The largest increases in fall-related TBI deaths occurred among persons aged 75 years or older. The severity of brain injury can be temporary to long-term and possibly life-threatening.

Symptoms may present themselves immediately following the injury or they can lie dormant for days or weeks before they make an appearance. Many of the symptoms may be present in both mild and severe TBI, however there are slight variations:

Mild Trauma

Physical Symptoms

  • Consciousness Lost for seconds to minutes
  • Mild to normal Headache
  • Non-Recurrent Vomiting / Nausea
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Speech Impairment
  • Sensory problems such sensitivity to light or sound, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, a bad taste in the mouth or changes in ability to smell.

Cognitive or Mental Symptoms

  • Mood changes / Mood swings
  • Depression or Anxiety

Severe TBI

Physical Symptoms

  • Consciousness Lost for minutes to hours
  • Persistent or progressive Headaches
  • Recurrent Vomiting / Nausea
  • Inability to wake up
  • Loss of coordination, numbness in fingers and toes
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
  • Profound confusion

Cognitive or Mental Symptoms

  • Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Coma and other disorders of consciousness

Symptoms are similar in infants and young children, however most often children are not able to communicate so you must be vigilant in observing these symptoms. You may notice changes in eating or nursing habits, unusual or easy irritability, persistent crying, changes in attention span, seizures, mood changes such as sadness or depression, drowsiness, and loss of interest in favorite toy or activity.

The most common causes of traumatic brain injury are falls, vehicle-related collisions, violence, sports injuries, explosive blasts and other combat injuries. Children especially newborn to 4-years old, young adults 15-24, Adults age 60 and older, and males are considered to be at a much higher risk.

A plethora of complications may occur dependent on the severity of the brain injury. Altered consciousness due to coma, vegetative or minimally conscious state, and brain death. Seizures, fluid buildup in the brain, infections, blood vessel damage, headaches, and vertigo can all occur.

Ways to prevent TBI are reducing risk for falls, wearing a helmet, avoid alcohol and drug use, wear seat belts and use airbags.

Older adults are at a much higher risk for falling, ways to help prevent this are to install handrails in common areas such as walk ways and in the bathroom. Use nonslip mats and remove all area rugs. Improve lighting so pathways are visible. Keep stairs and floor clear of clutter and encourage regular exercise to maintain a strong core.

Children are a little more-accident prone when they are at a younger age or even as they get a little older and partake in certain contact sports. Make sure safety gates are installed, keep the walkways and stairs clear of clutter, and also use nonslip mats wherever applicable. If your child is on a sports team, make sure they have the proper equipment to protect themselves such as helmets, eyewear, safety guards, mouth guards, proper footwear and athletic shoes in the correct fitted size to prevent the risk of falling, and gloves or any other associated protective equipment.

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