Causes of Head Trauma
Many activities can cause head injuries. Even activities that do not seem particularly dangerous could potentially lead to a serious injury if the proper precautions are not abided by. Treatment options for head injuries vary, based on the severity and nature of the trauma.
Many cases of head trauma are minor, requiring only basic first aid and usually leaving the patient with no long-term ill effects. Concern arises when the injury also involves symptoms like a severe headache or bleeding, confusion, vomiting, loss of balance, unconsciousness, unequal pupils, slurred speech, black and blue behind the ears or under the eyes, weakness in limbs, or if the patient’s breathing stops. If those symptoms present, it is crucial to make sure that the patient remains where they are and lies still. The patient should not be moved by an untrained bystander unless it is absolutely necessary, at least until medical help can arrive.1 Motor vehicle crashes and sports cause most of the traumatic brain injuries. Males account for the majority of cases of head injuries.
Types of Head Injuries & Symptoms
There are two types of head injuries: penetrating, such as the type which would result from a bullet; or closed, which are injuries which occur without the presence of lacerations. Symptoms may not be obvious at first. Swelling and bleeding can bring them on. They can range from the ones noted earlier to something even more severe, such as paralysis or a coma.2 Head injuries may also be accompanied by skull fracture. This can lead to an internal hemorrhage, where a hematoma in the skull can place pressure on the brain. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a concussion. Concussions can be mild, moderate, which could include the symptom of amnesia, or severe. Skull fractures can lead to the nose, ear, or mouth leaking cerebrospinal fluid. A brain infection could result from this.
Take Head Injury Seriously
Head injuries, in general, can be life-threatening, even if the symptoms appear at first to be mild. More severe symptoms could manifest later, at a time when medical assistance is not immediately available. Every head injury should be taken seriously. Other causes of head injury, besides collisions and sports, are accidents, falls, and assaults.3 TBI is also a risk in the military, as many troops can be seriously injured in combat and from IED attacks.4
Head trauma in football is very common and it has made quite a few headlines, from the professional arena, to the college teams, and even as far down as the youth level. There is a history of players hiding concussion symptoms in order to continue playing. But college football is making new rules, even ejecting players, for “kill shots”. Purposely causing a head injury to another player could potentially put the other player in very serious danger. New training and practice regulations are evolving as well.5 Football is not the only sport that can cause head trauma. Ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, field hockey, basketball, and others can pose a risk. Rough contact sports need to be properly regulated, and the protective gear which players wear needs to reflect the potential dangers.6
In terms of motor vehicles, helmets help prevent TBI in motorcycle riders, and helmet laws can go a long way in preventing lethal and non-lethal head injuries. Some people find the act of wearing helmets to be uncool, but becoming seriously damaged by a head injury is even less cool.7 Wearing helmets can save lives of bicyclists as well. Parents should teach their children about the importance of wearing helmets early on.8 Additionally, other motorists on the road should take note of those who are on motorcycles and bicycles, as the smaller vehicles are more maneuverable and break more quickly. Those who are driving cars should leave an increased following distance to compensate for the different stopping distances.
Head trauma which is severe enough to require treatment may require various medications and surgery to prevent brain damage. Diuretics (to reduce fluid and pressure), anti-seizure drugs, and coma-inducing drugs may be necessary to make sure the brain can get nutrients and oxygen. At times, emergency surgery will be required. Surgery can remove hematomas (clotted blood), repair skull fractures, or relieve pressure in the skull by creating a “window”.
Many professionals coordinate to care for head trauma patients, including physiatrists, occupational and physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychiatrists and social workers, rehabilitation nurses, and recreational and vocational counselors.9 Because many motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, and other traumas lead people to seek chiropractic care, the chiropractor may be the first professional to diagnose head trauma in a patient.10 Upper cervical care may be beneficial to patients who have suffered a head injury, such as concussion or whiplash, in order to reduce irritation to nerves that cause pain and neurological symptoms.11