Car accident victims sustain traumatic brain injuries more frequently than you might think. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) involves brain damage that results from an impact or jolt to the brain. TBIs range in severity from a concussion (mTBI) to severe damage that may cause lifetime impairments and even death. Brain damage becomes even more problematic when a delayed diagnosis prevents timely follow-up and treatment. This sometimes happens after an accident when EMTs and ER physicians focus on visible wounds. You and those around you should learn to recognize the signs of brain damage and how to explain your symptoms.
While brain injuries are common during horrific accidents with massive damage, TBIs also happen during less intense crashes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a traumatic brain injury as a disruption in the normal function of the brain. Because these types of injuries occur due to vehicle accidents, falls, and other circumstances, traumatic brain injury is a frequent cause of disability and death in the United States.
Car Accidents and Brain Damage
When you think about brain damage, you naturally imagine severe head trauma. You likely envision a gaping wound or profuse bleeding, but brain damage often occurs without any of these presentments. A penetrating head wound is just one of the ways people sustain brain injuries. TBIs also occur from a bump, jolt, or blow to the head or when a person endures a severe jolt. Car accidents provide the optimum circumstances for these types of incidents to occur.
Traditionally, falls have caused more brain injuries in the United States than any other type of accident. Vehicles have consistently held the number two position. Based on annual statistics from the Traumatic Brain Injury Data Systems, this dynamic is changing. Of the 18,126 TBI patients currently in the TBIDS database, vehicular accidents were a contributing factor in 5 percent of their injuries. Twenty-eight percent of the TBI victims sustained injuries during a fall.
If you drive a car or ride in one as a passenger, you face the risk of being involved in an accident one day. Before that occurs, however, you should understand that brain damage occurs frequently, and it doesn’t require direct head trauma. Depending on the crash severity and the force upon impact, vehicle occupants often endure head bumps, blows, and crushing head injuries that affect the brain. TBIs also occur when a severe vehicle impact jolts the body, causing the brain to move violently within the skull.
How Often Do Brain Injuries Occur
Whether you’re involved in a serious accident or moderate rear-end crash, you must know and recognize TBI symptoms to initiate prompt treatment if you so require. Brain injury is a leading cause of emergency room treatment, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The CDC tracked and documented the following national brain injury facts and treatment statistics:
- Brain injuries are a major cause of death in the United States.
- An average of 150 people dies each day due to brain injuries.
- From 2006 to 2014, brain injury-related ER visits, hospitalizations, and fatalities increased by 53 percent.
- Long-term disabling effects occur in 61 percent of children with moderate to severe TBIs.
- People often underestimate concussions, but they are mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) and thus serious injuries.
- Children and older adults are most at risk for brain injuries.
You Won’t Always Notice the Symptoms
As the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ traumatic brain injury page explains, when you suspect that you have a brain injury, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. When you arrive at an emergency room, doctors realize that they can’t usually reverse the existing brain damage. Immediate treatment allows physicians to focus on stabilizing you and your injury and preventing additional damage.
If you’re like most people, you don’t know what a brain injury feels like. You won’t feel as though you have a brain injury because the symptoms don’t always live up to customary expectations. When you have a brain injury, you won’t always lose consciousness. You might feel only mild or vague symptoms. If you didn’t suffer a direct head blow, you might feel brain damage symptoms, but you might not recognize them as symptoms of a TBI. That’s why it’s essential to familiarize yourself with basic head injury symptoms. When you know what to look for, you have an opportunity to prevent further damage.
Recognizing Brain Injury Symptoms
When you’re in an accident, and you suspect that you or someone else has a head injury, you must get proper medical treatment. That requires paying attention to symptoms and taking immediate action, which is often difficult to do considering the usual post-accident confusion. When an accident victim has a head injury, however, they must receive medical attention as soon as possible.
As with any type of brain damage, problems often worsen if you don’t treat the injury as soon as possible. This is easier to accomplish when you understand what you’re looking for.
The CDC divides brain injury symptoms into four categories: physical, thinking/cognitive, sleep difficulties, and emotional.
- Physical symptoms: Blurry vision, headache, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, balance, and other physical issues.
- Thinking/cognitive symptoms: Difficulty thinking, concentration problems, feeling slow, concentration difficulty, loss of recent memories or facts.
- Sleep issues: A change in sleeping patterns, either more or less sleep than normal.
- Emotional issues: Irritability, sadness, anxiety, nervousness.
When you or someone you know sustains a brain injury, you won’t necessarily have symptoms in all four categories. The symptoms you experience won’t always be profound, but they will all fall within these categories. Mild TBI (concussion) symptoms are often less noticeable and sometimes fleeting. You have far less difficulty in recognizing the symptoms of a moderate to severe brain injury.
Danger Signs of Moderate to Severe Brain Injury
When you sustain a moderate to severe brain injury, the symptom categories are the same. A person with a moderate brain injury has physical, cognitive, and other difficulties, but they’re usually more intense. People with severe brain injuries often develop one or more severe symptoms.
These danger signs match traditional expectations for head injury symptoms.
- Extended periods of unconsciousness
- Memory loss
- Intense headaches
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Seizures and convulsions
- Worsening confusion
- Inability to wake up
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Weakness and numbness
Recognizing a Child’s Brain Injury Symptoms
As children are particularly fragile, they sustain brain damage more easily than adults and under more circumstances. As with adults, a child’s brain damage isn’t always the result of a direct head wound. Shaken baby syndrome is one way for a child to sustain brain damage from extreme body trauma. This is often the case in a car accident. Even a child safety seat or booster seat can’t reduce a child’s physical trauma during a serious crash.
Young children with brain injuries can’t always express their feelings or explain their symptoms. That’s why you must pay close attention to your child’s post-accident behavior.
If you notice the following signs, take your child for medical treatment immediately:
- Your child shows any of the above danger signs.
- Your child can’t stop crying.
- Your child won’t eat or nurse.
Traumatic Brain Injuries in Older Adults
Elderly individuals’ increased vulnerability makes them more likely to sustain brain damage during a car accident.
In these situations, assess their injuries and make sure they have immediate medical attention because:
- Aging makes the body frail and less able to endure trauma.
- For aging patients who take prescription coagulants that thin the blood, brain bleeding becomes more problematic.
- Older adults experience the same types of brain damage as younger individuals, but older adults often have slower recovery times.
- Older adults die more frequently than younger brain injury victims.
Observing Brain Damage Symptoms in Others
Usually, you need input from the brain-injured individual to help identify any potential symptoms. As injured individuals aren’t always aware of what’s happening to them, it’s a good idea for a bystander to help identify symptoms. Of course, you can check all the signs and symptoms listed above, but many of the symptoms described are from the injured person’s perspective. You must also judge an injured person’s condition based on what you observe.
- Does the injured person seem dazed or confused?
- When you ask a question does the person respond without difficulty?
- Does the person remember what happened?
- Did the injured person lose consciousness?
- Do you notice any change in their personality?
- If you give them information, do they forget it?
The Mechanics of a Brain Injury
The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center provides a simple description of the traumatic brain injuries that change so many lives: damage to brain tissue caused by an external mechanical force.
Whether a head injury occurs due to a fall, a product malfunction, or a car accident, the external mechanical force causes one of three types of head injuries.
- Closed head wound: Damage due to the brain’s twisting, shaking, or slamming movement within the skull.
- Open wound: A fracture or penetrating injury to the skull that exposes the brain to damage.
- Crushing injury: A forceful blow that crushes a portion of the skull, damaging the brain and sometimes the brain stem.
Types of Brain Damage
A traumatic brain injury is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the brain after trauma. A TBI’s symptoms and effects are contingent upon the type of injury, the severity, and the location of the damage on or in the brain. Depending on these factors, brain damage can change everything you do. The symptoms you feel or someone else observes will help a physician pinpoint which part of your brain sustained an injury and which type of injury you sustained.
Like all types of brain damage, lesions vary in location and severity.
Both of these factors determine the injury complications and the patient’s recovery potential.
- Hematoma: A blood clot located in the brain or on the brain’s surface.
- Contusion: Bruised areas of swollen brain tissue and blood.
- Intracerebral hemorrhage: Bleeding that occurs within the brain.
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage: A thin layer of blood over the brain’s surface.
Diffuse brain injuries don’t appear on CT scans because they are so microscopic.
- Diffuse axonal injuries restrict nerve cells’ capacity to communicate with one another.
- Ischemia is a reduction of blood flow to the brain at a time when it’s critical.
Skull fractures vary widely depending on the severity and location.
- Linear skull fracture: A crack in the skull, which most doctors treat conservatively.
- Depression skull fracture: A fracture that pushes into the brain, causing serious damage.
- Base skull fracture: A fracture at the skull’s base that sometimes damages nerves and arteries and causes cerebrospinal fluid leakage.
Brain Damage Requires Immediate Medical Attention
If you’re involved in an accident, do an immediate brain injury self-assessment. Talk to your passengers to determine if they’re feeling or displaying TBI symptoms. Also, remember that you won’t always feel brain injury symptoms immediately after an accident. You must remain vigilant during the days following a crash. If you notice physical, thinking, sleeping, or emotional issues, you should seek immediate medical help.
Do You Need an Attorney to Handle Your Brain Injury Claim?
Brain damage is often complex and unpredictable. Even the mildest brain injuries can affect you throughout your lifetime. When you have so much at stake, you need a brain injury attorney to represent your legal interests while you focus on your recovery.
Attorneys will understand the statute of limitations, investigate any legal issues, and intervene with insurers when necessary. When you’re ready to settle, your attorney will work to produce the best possible outcome.
Your initial legal consultation is free. You have a chance to tell your story and learn about your legal options. When you discuss your case with a legal representative, you decide if you want to pursue a case against the responsible party. You have no obligation to make a claim or file a lawsuit, so reach out to an attorney today.