Head injuries are dreaded, and for a good reason. Although most head injuries are mild, a serious blow or repeat injuries can result in serious damage to the brain leading to disability, mental impairment, and, in worst-case scenarios, death.
In this blog post, we’ll cover the different types of head injuries, their symptoms, available treatment options and tips to prevent injuries.
Before we dive into the details, note that if you suffer a head injury due to someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to cover your treatment, rehabilitation, lost wages, and more. At Bergel Magence LLP, we help our clients obtain the compensation they deserve to cover all the losses and expenses resulting from their head injuries. Contact our offices today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.
What Is a Head Injury?
A head injury is an umbrella term used to describe in juries to the scalp, skull, brain, blood vessels and any underlying head tissue. The injuries range from minor bumps on the head to serious life-threatening brain injuries, such as diffuse axonal injury.
A head injury can be either closed or open (penetrating). In closed injuries, the skull remains intact, while in open-head injuries, there’s a crack in the scalp and skull.
Despite significant advancements in modern medicine, head injuries remain a major public health problem. They are among the leading causes of disability and death, accounting for over 30% of yearly injury-related deaths. Persons with severe and moderate injuries will most likely end up with long-term or permanent cognitive, physical or psychosocial impairment of some form.
Causes of Head Injuries
There are many causes of head injuries. The severity of the trauma involved determines the extent of the injury. For example, low-force trauma has minimal chances of causing brain damage, but there’s a good chance it will leave you with a bump on your head and probably a headache.
Head injuries can be caused either through direct impact on the head (hitting the floor with your head) or indirect impact (such as violent shaking in accidents). The main causes of head injuries are:
- Motor vehicle accidents – automobile-related accidents account for some of the most severe traumatic brain injuries. Car accidents can cause head injuries through direct impact with objects, violent shaking, or sudden acceleration and deceleration forces.
- Sports-related injuries – in sports activities, athletes can sustain concussions and other head injuries if they collide with each other (jolt or blow to the head) or are accidentally hit in the head with sporting equipment, such as a baseball bat. Athletes who incur multiple head trauma tend to suffer long-term complications and conditions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and neurocognitive impairments.
- Violent acts – domestic abuse, child abuse and assault can result in inflicted brain injuries. For example, violently shaking a baby can cause the shaken baby syndrome.
- Falls – this includes slip and fall accidents that cause a blow or jolt to the head when you hit the ground. Falls account for a huge percentage of head injuries.
Types of Head Injuries
Head injuries can be grouped into either open or closed. In closed-head injuries, the brain or other tissue underneath the skull suffers damage while the skull and scalp remain intact. Closed-head injuries result from a blow to the head or acceleration/deceleration forces, as experienced in falls and car accidents. In open head injuries, the skull and scalp are broken by a penetrating object, which then causes damage to the brain. Most head injuries are closed.
Traumatic brain injuries can also be graded into mild, moderate and severe based on the damage to the skull, brain and underlying tissue and vessels.
Let’s have a look at some types of head injuries:
This is the most common traumatic brain injury, accounting for 1 in every 4 brain injuries. A concussion occurs when the brain bounces against the skull as a result of a blow to the head or vigorous shaking. It’s usually characterized by an alteration in consciousness and a decrease in mental function for a short period of time. In most cases, the injured party remains conscious. However, 1 in every 10 people who suffer concussions may lose consciousness for about 15 minutes or up to 6 hours.
The effects of a concussion are usually temporally. However, persons who experience multiple concussions can suffer permanent damage.
Brain edema can be defined as a swelling of the tissue surrounding the injured part of the brain. Most brain injuries can lead to varying edemas. Since the brain is enclosed and the skull cannot stretch, swelling in the brain can be quite dangerous as pressure builds up, pressing the brain against the skull.
· Contusions and Lacerations
A contusion is a bruise on the surface of the brain, i.e., minor bleeding under the brain tissue due to the damage of microvessels. A brain laceration is a tear in brain tissue caused by a penetrating object or a piece of a fractured skull. Contusions and lacerations are usually minor brain injuries causing minimal damage and few temporary symptoms. In some cases, however, these injuries can cause serious bleeding and swelling of the brain.
· Skull Fractures
The skull contains several cranial bones fused to form one of the hardest structures in the body. In most cases, a blow or jolt to the head causes a brain injury without any crack to the skull. However, a strong blow to the head or penetrating object can crack the cranial bones causing an open head injury. The cracked cranial bones can bruise or cut your brain, causing a mild to severe injury depending on the damage they cause. There are several types of skull fractures, which include:
- linear skull fractures
- diastatic skull fractures
- depressed skull fractures
- basilar skull fractures
· Intracranial Hemorrhage
A brain hemorrhage is uncontrolled bleeding within the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage) or in the space between the brain and the skull (subarachnoid hemorrhage) due to a ruptured blood vessel. Brain bleeds are life-threatening and can cause major brain damage if not addressed in time.
A hematoma is an accumulation of blood outside blood vessels to form a blood clot. In head injuries, a hematoma can form between the skull and scalp or within the skull (Intracranial hematomas). Blood clots that form within the brain (intracerebral) or between the brain and the skull can cause a buildup of pressure inside the skull and herniation of the brain. This can lead to loss of consciousness, paralysis, respiratory problems and even death.
· Diffuse Axonal Injury (DIA)
Violent shaking and deceleration/acceleration forces in car accidents and falls can force the brain to rapidly move back and forth, causing damage to axons which are part of nerve cells within the brain, i.e., diffuse axonal injury. Axons are important parts of nerve cells involved in the transmission of signals between brain cells. Damage to axons disrupts signal transmission within the brain and other body parts.
A DIA is one of the most severe traumatic brain injuries, as it can lead to the death of damaged brain cells, increased intracranial pressure, permanent brain damage, coma and death. One unique characteristic of a DIA is the lack of bleeding.
Signs and Symptoms of Head Injuries
The symptoms of a head injury vary widely depending on the type and extent of the injury. Even in persons with the same type of head or traumatic brain injury, the symptoms experienced may vary. Since there are many types of head injuries, we will group them into mild and moderate to severe injuries and look at the most common physical, sensory, cognitive and psychological signs and symptoms.
It’s important to note that not all head injuries have immediate or noticeable signs. Sometimes, TBI symptoms can take a few hours or days to appear after suffering head trauma. Therefore, it’s always good to seek medical attention after a blow to the head or after an accident for proper monitoring and treatment.
Ø Symptoms of Mild Head Injury
The common symptoms of a mild TBI, such as a concussion, include:
- Mild confusion
- Blurred vision
- Superficial lacerations on the scalp
- External bleeding and bruising
- Problems with balance
- Ringing in the ears
Ø Symptoms of Moderate to Severe Head Injuries
Moderate and severe head injuries require immediate medical attention to minimize possible damage to the brain and prevent long-term effects. The symptoms of moderate to severe TBI include most symptoms of mild TBI. Other common symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness for long periods
- Severe, persistent headache
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioural changes such as agitation and irritability
- Dilated pupils
- Clear fluid or blood leaking from the ears or nose
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty with motor skills, e.g., walking
- Frequent nausea and vomiting
- Deep cuts or wounds on the head
- Vision, taste and smell problems
If you suffer a blow to the head or get a head injury through other means, you should seek immediate medical care. No matter how mild the symptoms are, a head injury should never be assumed. Even a minor injury has the capacity to cause long-term complications if not addressed immediately. If you experience any serious symptoms, such as disorientation and loss of consciousness, you should seek emergency medical care immediately.
Diagnosing Head Injuries
It’s easy to point out that one has a head injury. But how do you determine the severity and damage of the injury?
When you seek medical attention or are taken to a hospital due to a head injury, a doctor can utilize several tests and diagnostic tools to conduct a comprehensive medical examination and diagnose the extent of your head injury. Doctors usually ask about how the injury happened and conduct a thorough physical examination to check for signs of trauma and determine the best way forward.
Some of these tools and exams used include:
- Glasgow Coma Scale (GSC): This is a 15-point test used to measure your consciousness level by checking your ability to speak, move your limbs and eyes and follow simple directions. This test is meant to determine the initial severity of your brain injury. The higher your score, the less severe your head injury. A GSC test is one of the most widely used neurological examination tools.
- Imaging Tests: Brain scans are commonly used by doctors to determine the extent of the damage done to your skull and brain.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: a CT scan is used to check for structural damage, such as skull fractures, and look for brain bleeds, clots, contusions, and swelling.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): an MRI is a powerful diagnostic tool for creating detailed brain images. Through this, doctors can have a clearer view of your brain, including the subtle details of the brain’s soft tissue condition that a CT scan misses. An MRI scan is usually performed once your condition stabilizes.
- Blood tests: A Banyan Trauma Indicator can be used to look for specific proteins that confirm a mild brain injury or concussion.
Treatment Options for Head Injuries
Once your head injury is diagnosed, treatment starts. Head injury treatment is individualized depending on the type and severity of your injury, the presence of other injuries, medical history and overall health condition.
Ø Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment
Most head injuries are mild, with a slight possibility of progressing to serious head injuries. In mild head injuries, minimal treatment is required, which includes painkillers and proper physical and mental rest. Patients are required to gradually return to school, work and other activities to minimize the possibility of worsening the injury.
With a mild head injury, headaches and pain at the injury site are the main symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually prescribed to manage the pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, should be avoided as they increase the risk of internal bleeding. If the headache persists or gets worse, seek medical advice.
Persons with mild head injuries should be closely monitored for new, persistent or worsening symptoms.
Ø Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment
If you have a moderate to severe head injury, you may be hospitalized for specialized treatment based on your diagnosis. Some of the primary objectives in moderate to severe head injuries include preventing further damage to the brain and ensuring proper respiration to prevent hypoxia.
Some of the moderate to severe injury treatments include:
- Medications – most serious head injuries present an increased pressure inside the skull due to swelling of the brain. Anti-diuretics may be administered to relieve pressure, preventing further damage to the brain. Some severe brain injuries cause or increase the risk of convulsions and seizures. Anti-convulsion and anti-seizure drugs are administered for the first week to prevent convulsions and seizures and for a longer period if they occur.
In more severe head injuries, coma-inducing drugs are given. This is mostly done when your blood vessels are compromised because a comatose brain requires less oxygen and nutrients.
- Surgery – some head injuries require the intervention of neurological surgeons to prevent further damage. A head surgery could involve stopping uncontrolled bleeding (hemorrhage), removing dangerous blood clots (hematomas), reducing intracranial pressure and repairing skull fractures.
- Rehabilitation – after treatment, many moderate and severe brain injury patients require rehabilitative therapy to regain full or near-full brain function. Rehabilitation is usually individualized based on what function was affected by your brain injury. Some types of rehabilitative therapies include cognitive therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
Preventing Head Injuries
We’ve looked into common causes, types, symptoms and treatment options for head injuries. But how can one prevent a head injury from happening in the first place? Which safety precautions can you take to shield yourself from suffering a traumatic brain injury in case of an accident?
Here are some precautions and tips to prevent or reduce the risk of a head injury:
- Protective gear – many people sustain head injuries when playing certain sports or having outdoor fun without wearing protective headgear. Helmets and other protective headgear should always be worn when cycling, skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding, wrestling and riding recreational automobiles. Other necessary protective gear should also be used as required, including reflective jackets for riders and cyclists.
- Safe practices – safety practices are important at home, on the road and in every activity we carry out outdoors. To prevent or minimize the risk of sustaining a head injury, you should adhere to the following safety practices:
- prevent slip and fall accidents by improving lighting and removing slip and trip hazards
- protect children by installing stairs safety gates
- always have your safety belt on when driving
- discuss safe practices with your kids and teach them how to use sports equipment and wear safety gear correctly
- ensure your kids’ playground is safe and all equipment is in good condition
- use nonslip mats in your bathroom or tub
Head injuries are quite serious than most people realize. One hit or repeated trauma to the head can cause significant damage leading to emotional, behavioural and cognitive changes. It’s important to understand head injuries and their health risks. Getting familiar with the significance of a brain injury ensures that you follow safety protocols when engaging in dangerous activities and observe safety features at home and when driving or riding.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a head injury, it’s crucial to follow that treatment plan laid out by your doctor to avoid causing further damage to the brain and ensure the best recovery possible.
If you were injured due to the recklessness of another party, you shouldn’t have to bear the financial stress that comes with treatment, rehabilitation and other costs associated with a head injury. At Bergel Magence personal injury lawyers, we help head injury victims obtain the monetary compensation they deserve to cover all the losses and expenses resulting from their injury.
Call our office today at (866)-492-3743 or leave a message online to schedule your initial consultation.