Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: Heads up! Here are the facts about concussions and brain injuries

Our Thurston County Board of Health proclaimed March National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is an injury to the brain from any kind of blow, knock, or jolt. It can be mild, and cause temporary problems — or it can be very serious, and cause permanent or long-lasting damage.

Traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone, regardless of age. The very best option is for the community to work together to prevent these injuries.

In fact, an estimated 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. In Washington state, more than 6,000 residents a year sustain a TBI.

Some of the most common causes of TBI are a fall, car crashes, suicide attempts, violence, sports injury, or for soldiers, explosions or other combat injuries. In fact, since the year 2000, almost 400,000 deployed and non-deployed military service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result of their service.

All of these injuries can cause serious and ongoing challenges to the victims, as well as to their families. When someone has a blow to the head, that injury can cause physical symptoms as well as symptoms that affect a person’s senses or the way they think and act. TBI can result in children and adults experiencing long-term disabilities.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can appear hours or days after the injury and include:

Physical symptoms

  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes

  • No loss of consciousness, but a state of being dazed, confused or disoriented

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fatigue or drowsiness

  • Problems with speech

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Sleeping more than usual

  • Dizziness or loss of balance

Sensory symptoms

  • Blurred vision

  • Ringing in the ears

  • A bad taste in the mouth or changes in the ability to smell

  • Sensitivity to light or sound

Thinking symptoms

  • Memory or concentration problems

  • Mood changes or mood swings

  • Feeling depressed or anxious.

TBI also can result in more serious injuries that can include convulsions or seizures, extreme confusion, slurred speech, unusual behavior, coma, and death.

It’s important to talk to your health care provider any time you or a family member has a blow to the head that concerns you, or causes any symptoms. It’s very important to follow your health provider’s instructions about how much time is needed to heal before becoming active again. Getting a second head injury before the first injury has time to fully heal can cause additional or lasting damage, which could lead to permanent disability.

Prevention is always the best option, and there are some simple ways to reduce the chances of getting a serious brain injury. Protect against falls, especially for small children and seniors. Always wear a seat belt in a car. Always keep firearms safely locked away. Always insist on the use of helmets during any kind of sport.

If you have kids in sports, are a coach or a health care provider, I encourage you to learn more about the Heads Up campaign. This campaign provides helpful concussion awareness information tailored to youth sports.

You can learn more about traumatic brain injury from the Brain Injury Association of America: https://www.biausa.org/brain-injury .

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.
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