Every March, the Brain Injury Association of America leads the nation in observing Brain Injury Awareness Month. An estimated 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. A traumatic brain injury occurs when a blow to the head or penetrating head injury disrupts the normal function of the brain.
Understanding the Brain
The brain is the command center of your body, so it is critical to keep it protected and healthy. Your brain controls your ability to balance, walk, talk, and eat. It regulates your breathing, blood circulation, and heart rate. It allows you to speak, process information, make decisions, and feel emotions. Different parts of the brain control different functions and abilities, so the effects of a brain injury will depend on which section of the brain was injured.
A traumatic brain injury is defined as a disruption in the normal function of the brain caused by an external force, such as a blow to the head or penetrating injury. Non-traumatic brain injuries can also occur, but are due to an internal force such as a stroke or seizure. Common causes of traumatic brain injuries include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and sports/recreation injuries.
In the U.S. alone, approximately 5.3 million people live with a disability caused by a TBI. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of damage to the brain. Immediately following a brain injury, brain tissue will react to trauma with a series of biochemical and physiological responses. Depending on the severity of the brain injury, symptoms may include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Dilated pupils
- Vision changes (blurred vision or seeing double, not able to tolerate bright light, loss of eye movement, blindness)
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) (which may be clear or blood-tinged) coming out of the ears or nose
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Breathing problems
- Slow pulse
- Slow breathing rate, with an increase in blood pressure
- Ringing in the ears or changes in hearing
- Cognitive difficulties
- Inappropriate emotional responses
- Speech difficulties (slurred speech, inability to understand and/or articulate words)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Body numbness or tingling
- Droopy eyelid or facial weakness
- Loss of bowel control or bladder control
Treating a TBI
If you suspect you have sustained any sort of head injury, it is important to be evaluated by a medical provider right away. Neurosurgeons specialize in the treatment of the brain, spine, neck, back and central nervous system. Treatment options may involve emergency care to prevent further damage to your brain, depending on the severity of your injury. If you have a penetrating head injury, you may need surgery to correct damage to brain tissue and your skull. Although they can perform extremely complex surgeries, neurosurgeons typically use conservative, non-operative treatment plans before performing surgery.
Your neurosurgeon will be able to create a customized plan for you to return to activity and restore function, and will stay with you every step of the way. No two brain injuries are exactly alike, and while some individuals will recover in a matter of days, others may deal with their brain injury for years.
Head Injury Prevention Tips
- Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle. Never operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or ride as a passenger with anyone who is under the influence.
- Remove hazards in the home that may contribute to falls, especially around young children or the elderly. Secure rugs and loose cords, put away toys, use safety gates, etc.
- Always use approved and properly fitted safety equipment for your sport of choice, and make sure it is in good condition.
- While there is no concussion-proof helmet, they do protect the skull and absorb impact. Make sure your helmet fits properly and is worn consistently.