All You Need to Know About Head Injuries
As the consequence of falls, assaults, car accidents, and mishaps during sports or recreational activities, head injuries can be of numerous types, the most serious being traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries, which occur when there is damage to the brain, affect over 2.8 million Americans every year.
While most people ignore the possibility of sustaining a head injury when engaging in activities that pose this risk, the reality is that they can result in permanent disability, mental impairment, and even death. For this reason, you should protect your head by wearing your seatbelt while driving and wearing your helmet when riding a bike or playing sports, for instance. Because they vary from mild to severe, head injuries come in many forms, such as bruises, cuts on the head, concussions, deep cuts, open wounds, or fractured skull bones. If there is internal bleeding and the person does not immediately receive medical care, they are at high risk of death.
Furthermore, head injuries can be open or closed. While the former is one in which something breaks your skull and enters your brain, the latter is one that leaves your skull bone intact. This article will discuss all types of head injuries, as well as traumatic brain injuries, how to give first aid to someone with a head injury, and how to avoid head injuries.
The Most Common Types of Head Injuries
Another way to classify head injuries is by what type of trauma is the culprit. Consequently, head injuries can be either the result of blows to the head or shaking. In the majority of cases, the skull will protect the brain from serious harm. However, head injuries that are severe enough can also be associated with injuries to the spine, which makes the situation all the more serious and potentially fatal. The following are the most common types of head injuries:
- Concussion: As the most prevalent kind of head injury, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain is shaken hard enough to bounce against the skull. It can range from mild to severe. A hit to the head is not always necessary to get a concussion, as a severe impact elsewhere on the body can generate enough force to jar the brain. The loss of function correlated with a concussion is temporary, but repeated concussions may eventually lead to permanent brain damage. As for treatment, you will have to physically and mentally rest to recover from a concussion. This includes limiting activities that require thinking and mental concentration for the first two days after the injury.
- Contusion: A contusion is a bruise affecting the brain itself. It causes bleeding and swelling inside the brain around the area where the head was struck. Contusions may occur with skull fractures or blood clots. The bleeding that might occur inside the brain itself, which is known as intraparenchymal hemorrhage, sometimes occurs spontaneously. When trauma to the head is not what the contusion stems from, other common causes are high blood pressure, bleeding disorders in children or adults, or taking medications or certain illicit drugs that cause blood thinning. Mild contusions will usually go away by themselves, whereas moderate and severe contusions might require surgery or prescription medication.
- Intracranial hematoma: This kind of head injury refers to bleeding occurring under the skull that eventually forms a blood clot. Intracranial hematomas range from mild to severe and are classified according to where they form. They can be epidural hematomas or subdural hematomas. When this head injury leads to pressure building up inside the skull, this can cause the person to lose consciousness or result in permanent brain damage. Therefore, it is crucial to have your brain checked following a head injury by using imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans. When it comes to treatment, if the blood is localized and has a liquid consistency, the doctor might drill a small hole in your skull to remove it. Nevertheless, large hematomas might require a section of your skull to be opened to remove the blood.
- Skull fracture: Unlike most bones in our bodies, our skull does not have bone marrow, which is why it is very difficult to break. Consequently, a broken skull is unable to absorb the impact of a blow, making the likelihood of brain damage very great. There are four types of skull fractures, namely linear skull fractures, which are the most common and in which there is a break in the bone that does not move the bone, depressed skull fractures, in which a part of the skull is sunken in from the trauma, diastatic skull fracture, which occur along the suture lines in the skull and are most common in children, and basilar skull fractures, which are the most serious skull fractures, involving a break in the bone located at the base of the skull. Most skull fractures do not require surgical intervention. Instead, the doctor will prescribe medication to control the pain.
- Edema: A head injury that also involves the brain might lead to edema, which refers to swelling. Numerous injuries cause swelling of the surrounding tissues, but it is more serious when it occurs in the brain since the skull cannot stretch to accommodate the swelling. In turn, this leads to pressure buildup in the brain, causing the brain to press against the skull. When it affects the brain, edema is also known as cerebral edema. Brain edema can severely restrict the supply of blood to the brain. Since blood carries oxygen to the brain, which is crucial for the brain to function, a lack of oxygen will damage brain cells or even cause them to die. The treatment for cerebral edema can include hyperventilation, osmotherapy, corticosteroids, diuretics, and surgical decompression.
- Diffuse axonal injury: While this head injury does not cause bleeding, it causes damage to the cells, which might result in them not being able to function properly. It can also cause swelling, adding to the damage. Even though it is not visible, a diffuse axonal injury is one of the most dangerous kinds of head injury. It can cause permanent brain damage and can even be deadly. If you sustained a diffuse axonal injury, your brain rapidly shifts inside the skull. The long connecting fibers in the brain, the axons, are sheared as the brain accelerates and decelerates inside the bone of the skull. Many people who have a diffuse axonal injury are left in a coma. The immediate course of action in the case of a diffuse axonal injury is to reduce the swelling inside the brain.
If you have sustained a head injury, even if you think it is not serious, we advise you to go to the hospital right away, as you cannot know what happened inside your skull. As you have read until now, there are many head injuries whose consequences you cannot feel, but which might seriously affect you and even put your life at risk. Only by having your brain evaluated by a medical professional you can know with certainty if you can carry on with your life as usual after your injury or if you require treatment.
What About Traumatic Brain Injuries?
Every 21 seconds, a person is affected by a traumatic brain injury across the country. Alarmingly, from 2006 to 2014, the number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths related to traumatic brain injuries increased by 53%. Over 56,000 people lose their lives to traumatic brain injuries annually in the U.S. Another mind-blowing fact about traumatic brain injuries is that they 6 times more individuals yearly than spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, HIV and AIDS, and breast cancer combined. The following are other eye-opening facts about traumatic brain injuries:
- roughly 5.3 million Americans currently have a lifelong need for help to perform daily activities as a consequence of traumatic brain injury
- approximately 10% of traumatic brain injuries are the consequence of assault
- motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death due to traumatic brain injury in children and young adults 5 years old and 24 years old
- young children, teenagers, and seniors are more susceptible to sustaining a traumatic brain injury
- the demographics who are more likely to experience a traumatic brain injury include racial and ethnic minorities, service members and veterans, survivors of intimate partner violence, and people living in rural areas
Finally, it is worthy of note that traumatic brain injuries affect children differently than adults. They can severely disrupt a child’s development and limit their ability to participate in school and activities such as sports. The signs a child has sustained a traumatic brain injury are usually changes in eating or nursing habits, seizures, persistent crying and inability to be consoled, drowsiness, and loss of interest in their favorite toys or activities. If your child exhibits one of the previous symptoms, you should not wait and go to the emergency room immediately, as serious health complications might arise from untreated traumatic brain injuries that can affect their entire life.
How to Give First Aid to Someone with a Head Injury
The signs of a person having sustained a head injury might occur right away or develop throughout a few hours or days. Nonetheless, if a person has a serious head injury, you will recognize it by symptoms such as excessive sleepiness, seizures, a severe headache, incoherent speech, loss of consciousness, and vomiting more than once. In this scenario, it is ideal to give the person first aid, but it is paramount that you know what you do so as to avoid causing more harm than good. Therefore, after you call the ambulance, you should:
- check their airway, breathing, and circulation and, if necessary, begin rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- if their breathing and heart rate are normal, but the person is unconscious, treat the case as if there is a spinal injury by stabilizing the head and neck by placing your hands on both sides of their head and keeping the head in line with the spine and prevent movement until the ambulance arrives
- stop any bleeding by firmly pressing a clean cloth on the wound and if the injury is serious, be careful not to move their head
- if you believe they have a skull fracture, do not apply pressure to the site and do not remove any foreign objects or debris from the wound – instead, cover the wound with a sterile gauze dressing
- to prevent choking if the person is vomiting, roll their head and body onto their side, as this will still protect the spine, which you should always assume is damaged in the case of a head injury
- do not wash a wound that is deep or bleeding a lot, remove any object sticking out of a wound, move the person unless absolutely necessary, shake the person if they seem dazed, pick up a child with any sign of head injury, or remove a helmet if you suspect a serious head injury
Lastly, preventing a head injury is extremely important, so we highly suggest you always take the necessary precautions when there is a risk of sustaining one. For instance, you should never drive or ride in a car without buckling up or drive under the influence of alcohol, and you should always wear a helmet if you are riding a bike, motorcycle, or scooter, riding a horse, skateboarding, or skiing. Senior people should ensure their home is safe so as to prevent falls, which can easily cause head injuries by removing throw rugs, creating a more open environment, wearing non-slip footwear, and cleaning up piled clutter.