Winter is full of fun activities like snowboarding, skiing, and sledding. However, not taking the proper safety precautions may lead to accidents and injuries. In fact, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reports that nearly 4 million Americans face sport or other recreational brain injuries every year. If you have 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 from whiplash; or a penetrating head injury.

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 snowboarding, skiing, sledding, or snow tubing, as well as playing a contact sport such as ice hockey. However, remember helmets do not decrease the risk of concussion. Helmets help prevent other head injuries, such as skull fracture and cuts, while minimizing the impact.
  • Make sure the helmet is worn correctly, fits well, and is in good condition. Take steps to prevent falls.
  • Know your limits. If you do not feel comfortable on a harder slope or are new to the activity, take the safer route until you are more comfortable. Assess each route before attempting.
  • Supervise children during activities in which TBI is possible, such as skiing, snowboarding, tubing, etc.

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 concussion and milder injuries, the 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 may occur at the time of the injury, while others may not be noticed until the person returns to their everyday life. 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 recovery from a traumatic brain injury, 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 experience 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.


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