When you think of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), most people think of sports injuries or motor vehicle crashes. And it’s not surprising. TBIs, including concussions, are often covered in the media in relation to football players or student athletes.

As a Level 1 Trauma Center, we see traumatic brain injuries in a very different light. In 2019 so far, we saw almost 400 trauma patients with moderate to critical head injuries. Of those with moderate to critical head injuries, 35 percent were caused by a fall from standing!

According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries across the country. Falls-related TBIs disproportionally affect young children and older adults.

After a fall (even if the individual doesn’t recall hitting their head) or other blow/bump to the head, it is important to monitor for signs and symptoms of a TBI. Symptoms can be immediate or appear days or months after the injuries.

There are four categories of common TBI symptoms: Thinking/Remembering, Physical, Emotional, and Sleep.

Thinking/Remembering

  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly

Physical

  • Complaints of headaches
  • Fuzzy or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Feeling tired or lacking their usual energy

Emotional

  • Increase in irritability or sadness
  • Feelings of nervousness or anxiety
  • Acting more emotional

Sleep

  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Difficulty falling asleep

The symptoms of a TBI may be hard to identify and may go unnoticed by individuals, family members, and even doctors. If you suspect a family member has had a TBI, encourage them to talk to their medical provider or discuss your concerns with a medical provider.

There are also danger signs of traumatic brain injuries that require you seek immediate medical attention! If you see the following signs, get the person to the emergency department right away!

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache that worsens and does not go away
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Very drowsy feeling or cannot wake up
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Difficult recognizing people or places
  • Getting increasingly confused, restless, or agitated

Children may also show signs of constant inconsolable crying or refusal/inability to nurse or eat.

Remember, if you see any of the danger signs following a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, call 9-1-1 or get the person to the emergency department as fast as possible!

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. 

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