Definition & Overview

Head injuries are any injury that results in trauma to the brain or skull. In medical literature, the terms “head injury” and “traumatic brain injury” can be used interchangeably. Head injury is a term that can be applied to many categories of injuries, including vascular and neuronal injuries, as well as haemorrhages and subdural hygromas. Head injuries, which can also be closed or penetrating (open), are categorized based on whether the patient’s skull was broken or not.

In the United States, 1.7 million people per year suffer from head injuries and around three percent of these people die due to the injuries they sustained. Most of the time, head injury can be less obvious than injuries in other parts of the body, and symptoms such as vomiting, developing a serious headache, sleepiness, abnormal behaviour, loss of consciousness, mismatched size of the pupils, and paralysis in some parts of the body can be observed.

Categorizing head injuries into open and closed types is one of the basic classifications. In a closed head injury, the dura mater or the outermost membrane of the brain, remains intact. The patient’s skull can be fractured. On the other hand, an open or penetrating brain injury often involves an object piercing into the patient’s skull, which will then breach the dura mater.

Head injuries can cause a wide variety of problems to the patient. Skull fractures are quite common, as well as the scalp being lacerated and haemorrhages appearing on the skin. When the dura mater is breached or affected by the injury, there might be a slow bleeding underneath the membrane. A patient suffering from a head injury might also suffer from bruising to the brain, a concussion, fall into a coma, or even die.

A concussion, also referred to as a traumatic brain injury, is actually a mild kind of brain injury resulting from a blow to the patient’s head. It can result to changes in the individual’s cognitive, emotional, and physical behaviours. Common symptoms exhibited by an individual suffering from a concussion are nausea, headaches, fatigue, clumsiness or a lack of coordination in movement, confusion, and blurry vision. When concussions are more severe in nature, the individual can suffer from retrograde or anterograde amnesia. Concussions are the most common type of head injury observed in children. Children from 0 to 4 years old are most susceptible to falls, as well as adults 65 years old and older.

Cause of condition

Trauma to the head is the main cause of head injury. Trauma can be sustained from a wide variety of situations, such as falls, traffic collisions, accidents at home or in the workplace, and assault. In the United States, the most common causes of traumatic brain injury are falls and traffic accidents.

Children who suffer from head injuries are usually toddlers learning how to walk; often, these children trip over something or lose their balance that lead to falling and sustaining a head injury. When left unsupervised in playgrounds, children are also at the risk of falling over something or getting into an accident that can result to head injuries.

Sporting activities can also lead to head injury. Cycling, basketball, baseball, softball, and football are activities that can result in serious brain injury. Statistics shows that the operation of recreational vehicles such as mini-bikes, go-karts, and dune buggies can also lead to accidents that can result to mild or serious head injury.

Key symptoms

The visual symptoms of head injury can be very discreet, which can be very dangerous for the individual suffering from it. Children who cannot communicate what they are feeling or experiencing are at a higher risk of being left untreated for the head injury they have sustained.

An individual suffering from a traumatic brain injury can feel dizzy, nauseous, confused, or depressed. Balance problems are also a key symptom. A foggy or groggy feeling is a common sign of brain injury, especially when combined with the individual feeling tired or sluggish. Headaches, memory loss, difficulty in sleeping (or sometimes, oversleeping or feeling sleepy during inopportune times), increased sensitivity to noise or light, and memory and concentration problems are also common symptoms among people suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

A serious head injury is more dangerous and can lead to permanent paralysis, coma, or even death. When the patient cannot communicate what he or she is feeling, it is important to observe for the following:

  • Blood or clear fluids coming out of the ears, nose, or mouth
  • Observable changes in the size of the pupils
  • Distortion of the facial features
  • Convulsions
  • Bruises in the face
  • A drop in the blood pressure
  • Fractures in the face or the skull
  • Impaired senses (vision, hearing, taste, or smell)
  • Inability to move the limbs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shallow or decreased breathing
  • Lack of coordination or restlessness in the limbs
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling where the injury is located

In the case of the symptoms described above, it is important to bring the patient immediately to the emergency room.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

It is important to see a doctor right away after suffering from a head injury. Medical professionals believe that treatment should be administered within the “golden hour,” or within an hour from when the injury was received by the patient. The emergency room has a rotating staff of physicians and medical professionals who can immediately respond to a patient suffering from injury to the head.

After the initial treatment of the injury, one should see a neurologist who specializes in matters of the nerves and the brain. Meanwhile, a neurosurgeon can perform any surgical treatment to manage the problems following a head injury.

References:

  • Types of Brain Injury, Serious Injury Law
  • Traumatic Brain Injury, International Anaesthesiology Clinics
  • Care of the Critically Ill Patient with Penetrating Head Injury, Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America
  • Shell Shock and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, The American Journal of Psychiatry
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