Have you ever hit your head and felt a bit out of things afterwards? If you experienced headaches, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to noise, or difficulty remembering things, you may have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Traumatic brain injuries can occur after a direct bump, blow, or jolt to the head, a rapid deceleration or acceleration of your head as in whiplash, or a penetrating head injury. In a recent study by the CDC, the three leading causes of TBI are falls, unintentional blunt trauma (being hit by an object), and car accidents.

Prevention

Traumatic brain injuries cannot always be prevented, but there are several steps you can take to help lower the chance you or someone else will experience a severe TBI:

  • Always wear a helmet when riding a bike, motorcycle, scooter, or recreation vehicle; playing a contact sport; using in-line skates or riding a skateboard; batting or running bases; riding a horse; or skiing or snowboarding. However, helmets do not decrease the risk of concussion.
  • Make sure helmets are worn correctly, fit well, and are in good condition.
  • Take steps to prevent falls.
  • Always wear a seat belt.
  • Buckling your child in the car using a child safety seat or booster seat according to the child’s height, weight, and age.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Make living areas safer for seniors by improving lighting throughout the home, removing tripping hazards, using non-slip mats, and installing handrails on both sides of stairways.
  • Make living areas safer for children by using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.

Symptoms

Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild concussions to severe, life-threatening injuries. If you suspect you or someone else may have a concussion or TBI, it is important to cease physical activity. During the minutes to hours following a head injury, the injured person should be observed closely. In cases of milder brain injuries, symptoms usually lessen over several minutes to hours. If the injured person’s symptoms worsen or their level of consciousness decreases, he or she should be taken immediately to the emergency room. Consider calling 911 if you are more than a few minutes from the hospital.

It is crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion as early as possible. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fuzzy or blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting after injury
  • Balance problems
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Feeling slowed down

Some of these symptoms occur at the time of the injury, while others may not be prevalent until the person returns to their everyday lives. It is a misconception that you must experience a “blackout” to have a concussion; in fact, loss of consciousness occurs in only 10% of concussions.

Treatment and Recovery

When it comes to recovering from a traumatic brain injury, getting plenty of physical and cognitive rest is key. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse. A good adage to follow is, “when in doubt, sit it out.” Cognitive rest may include a temporary leave from work or school; shortening work or school days; and minimizing activities that require concentration and attention, such as playing video games or using a computer. Physical rest requires that people refrain from any physical exertion until they have been asymptomatic at rest without taking medications for at least 24 hours.

You should slowly and gradually return to your daily activities only after you receive clearance from your health care provider once your symptoms are significantly reduced. For student athletes, the transition back to full play should take a minimum of five days; however, ten days is more typical. If your symptoms come back or you get new symptoms as you become more active, this is a sign you are pushing yourself too hard. If you do not think you are getting better, or think you are getting worse, tell your physician.