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Head Injuries: Causes and Treatments

Head injuries are dangerous. They can lead to permanent disability, mental impairment, and even death. To most people, head injuries are considered an acceptable risk when engaging in sports and other types of recreational activities. But there are steps you can take to lower the risk and protect yourself and your children.

What Are Head Injuries?

Head injuries are injuries to the scalp, skull, or brain caused by trauma. Concussions are the most common type of sports-related brain injury with an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions a year. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that happens when the brain is jarred or shaken hard enough to bounce against the skull. This can happen when two athletes collide or when someone falls and hits his or her head. It can also result from being hit in the head with a piece of sporting equipment. In a sport such as soccer, even "heading" the ball can cause a concussion. A concussion causes an alteration of a person's mental status and can disrupt the normal functioning of the brain. Multiple concussions can have a long-lasting, cumulative life-changing effect.

You don't have to be hit in the head to experience a concussion. An impact elsewhere on the body can create enough force to jar the brain. You also won't necessarily lose consciousness with a concussion. Concussions range from mild to severe. The effects may be apparent immediately, or they may not show up until hours or even days later.

Other types of TBIs are a contusion, which is a bruise on the brain that can cause swelling, and a hematoma, which is bleeding in the brain that collects and forms a clot. A skull fracture is another type of head injury that can affect the brain. Sometimes with a fracture, pieces of bone can cut into the brain and cause bleeding and other types of injury.

What Sports and Recreational Activities Offer the Most Risk of Head Injury?

In 2008, the following activities resulted in the highest number of head injuries for all ages:

  • Cycling
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Baseball and softball
  • Riding powered recreational vehicles such as dune buggies, go-carts, and mini bikes

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, the five leading activities responsible for concussions in children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 years of age are:

  • Cycling
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Playground activities
  • Soccer

 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Brain Injury?

Signs of a TBI include:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Feeling foggy or groggy
  • Feeling sluggish or tired
  • Headache
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble remembering

Indications that a head injury is more serious than a concussion and requires emergency treatment include:

  • Changes in size of pupils
  • Clear or bloody fluid draining from the nose, mouth, or ears
  • Convulsions
  • Distorted facial features
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Facial bruising
  • Fracture in the skull or face
  • Impaired hearing, smell, taste, or vision
  • Inability to move one or more limbs
  • Irritability
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low breathing rate
  • Restlessness, clumsiness, or lack of coordination
  • Severe headache
  • Slurred speech or blurred vision
  • Stiff neck or vomiting
  • Sudden worsening of symptoms after initial improvement
  • Swelling at the site of the injury
  • Persistent vomiting

 

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