According to the Center for Disease Control, 30% of all injury related deaths are contributed to traumatic brain injuries. Of these, more than 14% are the direct result of automobile accidents. Auto accident related TBIs are the leading cause of death for those 5-24 years of age. Non-fatal TBIs, are the leading cause of 15-44 year olds requiring hospitalization.
A TBI occurs when there is a sudden striking of the brain against the skull caused by a violent shaking, unnatural movement or a hit to the head by or against another object. The soft tissue of the brain absorbs the powerful force of the impact and according to the velocity inside the skull; varying degrees of disruption of normal brain function may result. Also known as a closed brain injury, its effect may range from mild to severe.
What kinds of car accidents result in brain injuries?
During an auto accident a person is subjected to sudden violent movements. His or her head may come into contact with immobile surfaces or free-flying objects. Depending on the point of contact, the injuries may differ.
The driver and passengers of a vehicle which is rear ended may experience what is commonly known as whiplash. This occurs when the head is abruptly thrown backwards and then forward due to force from behind. When this occurs the brain strikes the skull at a high speed resulting in mild to moderate symptoms of a TBI. Neck and back pain may also be present.
On the contrary, a front end collision causes the vehicle to stop abruptly. The driver and passengers of the vehicle continue to move forward at the same rate of speed they were traveling prior to the crash. The occupants are thrown forward causing them the strike the windshield, dashboard and possibly to have the front of the vehicle crushed against them. Once again the brain is forced against the skull with great force. Not only is the brain subjected to injury but the face as well. Severe facial injury is often accompanied by a traumatic injury to the brain.
In a side impact car crash the occupant’s head is violently thrown in the direction of the strike. If the car were struck on the driver’s side, the driver’s head would be thrown to the left forcing the brain to strike the right side of the skull and then back again striking the left side of the skull. Depending on where the car is struck in a side impact collision the resulting head trauma may differ. Being struck directly in the side between the wheels tends to be more destructive than being struck in the front side or rear side. Striking one’s head against the window or an outside object may result in lacerations of the scalp or fractures of the skull. Shards of glass, debris or even bone fragments may enter the brain and result in devastating wounds. This is known as an open head injury. Since our skulls are only about a quarter of an inch thick, a blow to the head with the force of a colliding vehicle may likely cause catastrophic and long term suffering.
How do you check for a brain injury?
Medical professionals conduct a series of tests to determine the severity of a TBI. One such test is the Glasgow Coma Scale or GCS. Monitoring mobility of the extremities and visual and verbal abilities, scoring is based on a numerical scale. Less than 8 would be considered severe while above 13 would be mild. Neuropsychologists and speech pathologists may be consulted for cognitive and speech evaluations respectively. Detailed images of the brain may be obtained to determine changes in the brain’s appearance and function.
Mild symptoms may include disorientation, confusion, headache, blurred vision and a black out or brief loss of consciousness. Sometimes a bruising or contusion accompanied by mild swelling may be present. This is most often referred to as a concussion once testing has discovered no abnormal findings.
Moderate symptoms may include more prolonged and severe cognitive impairments lasting hours, weeks or even permanently. Sudden nausea and severe headache may also appear. Vision impairment may include depth perception or double vision. There may be memory loss of events prior to, during or even after the injury which may be short term or permanent.
Severe symptoms occur when there are actually physical changes to the body of the brain caused by tearing of the tissues such as the nerves or blood vessels resulting in devastating and lasting changes to a person’s personality, thought process and basic functions. Seizures, fluids from the nose or ears and unequal pupil dilation may also be present indicating a possible skull fracture. Testing may reveal swelling and bleeding in the brain and may require surgical intervention to reduce swelling, repair damage and/or remove blood clots. In some cases, sudden severe brain trauma may be fatal.
Long term TBI effects for an adult may include increased risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Likewise, children who experience a TBI may not show the effects until much later in life. The lasting ramifications of a child’s frontal lobe injuries may not be evidenced until many years later as the child matures and the need for communicative skills arises.
What is the next step if you or someone you know has a brain injury?
After being involved in an automobile accident, medical attention should be requested at once. Though one may be in shock and denial immediately following an accident, underlying head trauma injuries are inclined to manifest and should be detected right away. Timely documentation and an ongoing record of the consequences of the injury’s aftermath should be maintained for future medical reference. Medical and legal professionals may be able to assist in your healthcare needs as well as legal rights when recovering to an optimal state of health.