Keep your head up. Hold your head high. Mind over matter.
There are many adages that put our heads, and the brains they protect, front and center. But, when it comes to thinking about our overall health, protecting ourselves from brain injuries may not always top the list.
According to the Brain Injury Association of America, there are more than 5.3 million individuals in the United States who are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability. Some head injuries are unavoidable – car accidents, sports injuries or accidental falls. Though, in some cases, we can take important preventative steps to keep our noggins safe.
In honor of National Brain Injury Awareness Month, I want to share more about the symptoms, causes and detriments of brain injuries, as well as some tips to protect against them. Often when we think of injuries, we think of ones that are visible – a scrape, bruise or cut. However, brain injuries are invisible to us from the outside. That’s why diagnosis is key.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Left untreated, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can worsen quickly and have lasting consequences. No two brain injuries are the same and all can have long-term effects on a patient, even mild ones.
Concussions are common head injuries, caused by a bump, blow or sharp jolt to the head. Symptoms often include a headache, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, ringing in the ears, memory impairment and more. In the event of a possible concussion, it is important to see your doctor or go to the emergency room for an assessment to evaluate the seriousness of the injury. An assessment of your brain will review motor function, sensory function, coordination, eye movement and memory.
Symptoms of moderate TBIs include unconsciousness occurring for up to 24 hours, signs of brain trauma, contusions or bleeding and signs of injury on neuroimaging. One significant difference between a moderate and severe TBI is that in severe cases, unconsciousness can exceed 24 hours, which is also referred to as a coma, and patients have a lack of sleep and wake cycles during their loss of consciousness.
Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, can help providers confirm or rule out more serious head injuries. They can also show brain bleeding that may have occurred from the injury.
Although traumatic brain injuries can be scary, there are steps you can take to prevent them. For children and adults alike, wearing a helmet while riding a bike, scooter or anything with wheels is a great way to help prevent a head injury if a fall or accident occurs. Likewise, all families should practice motor safety by wearing seatbelts, buckling children in proper car seats or booster seats and driving responsibly.
For kids and teens participating in sports, wearing protective headgear, and teaching basic concussion safety can be critical in preventing head injuries. This is especially true for those who participate in contact sports. Working with your child, coaches and athletic trainers on safe play and the importance of reporting their injury is integral to their safety in sports.
For older adults, talking to your doctor about fall risks and safety measures you can implement in your home to avoid falls is another great way to prevent head injuries or TBIs. In addition, regularly going to the optometrist to have your eyes checked and practicing balance exercises can also prevent a nasty fall and potential head injury.
Head and brain injuries may not always be ones we expect to experience but it’s important to know the signs of these injuries so you can keep yourself and loved ones well. Through safety education and injury prevention, you can rest your head knowing you’re doing all you can to protect your health.
* Dhruv R Patel, MD, is the Medical Director of Mercy Health – Lorain’s stroke program and is Board Certified in neurology, vascular neurology, neuromuscular medicine with certification in neurorehabilitation. Dr. Patel comes with 24 years of experience in providing high quality and compassionate care in many subspecialties in Neurology.