March is Brain Injury Awareness Month.
It is a time to reflect on a serious issue that occurs every 16 seconds in the United States, according health community statistics. An estimated 1.5 - 2 million traumatic brain injuries are suffered each year. More alarmingly, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a traumatic brain injury or concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change how the brain normally works. Concussions can occur from a fall or blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.
Concussions or TBIs are categorized as mild, moderate or severe; with the majority of them on the lower end of that scale. There are certain age groups that are at higher risk for concussions – children from birth to four years old, teenagers 15-19 years old, and adults 65 years or older. Concussions occur in males more often than females.
The military community has higher rates of concussion than its civilian counterparts, mostly due to specific job duties, deployments and physical requirements. The most commonly reported troop injuries are from blast exposures.
For the general public, the leading causes of head trauma are falls, motor vehicle accidents, struck by or against an object, and physical assaults. Among children and teens, the main reasons for emergency department visits related to the subject injuries are bicycling, playground accidents and sports activities, particularly football, basketball and soccer.
According to the Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center, 413,858 service members have been diagnosed with a TBI over the past decade. The statistic reflects an estimated 23 percent of those individuals suffered injuries during operational deployments or large-scale training exercises.
A concussion is defined by either a loss of consciousness or an alteration of consciousness – i.e., feeling dazed or confused, “seeing stars,” or difficulty speaking, hearing or seeing. Along with these symptoms, the most common reactions fall into four categories: thinking/remembering, physical, emotional and sleep. These symptoms include headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, changes in vision, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, balance problems, anxiety, depression, irritability and ringing in the ears.
Symptoms may occur immediately after injury or can take days or weeks after the initial trauma. The important thing to remember is that most people recover quickly and fully.
To assist with recovery, it is recommended that the person abstain from activities that put them at risk for further injury and rest/sleep as prescribed by a physician.
How can concussions be prevented?
The simple and straightforward answer is to use safety equipment designed to protect the head and body. In vehicles, wear seat belts and place children in age-and-weight appropriate child safety seats that are correctly installed. For recreational activities such as bicycling, football, hockey, skating/skateboarding, baseball/softball, horseback riding and skiing/snowboarding, one should always wear a properly fitted and safety-industry-approved helmet.
Those who have experienced a concussion in the past should be extra cautious because they are more likely to sustain another such injury, and the possibility of prolonged damage increases with each incident.
What should be done if someone is believed to have suffered a concussion? The answer is to keep them calm, awake and under observation while immediately seeking help from a health care professional.