The Medical Minute: Traumatic brain injuries

By Shannon M. Kearns-DePatto and Leigh G. Brown

March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Every year in the United States 1.7 million people, including 475,000 children, sustain a traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries are disruptions or changes in the way the brain functions that occur due to a blow or jolt to the head or penetrating injuries. Brain injuries are the most common cause of death and lifelong disability for children. At the Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, the most common causes of brain injuries are sports related, bicycle crashes, falls or a motor vehicle crash.

The most common brain injuries are concussions. Most children and adults with a minor concussion can recover quickly and fully, some will have symptoms that last for days, or even weeks. The effects of a more serious concussion can last for months or longer. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from a previous concussion can be very dangerous. Another concussion can slow recovery or increase the chances for long-term problems, or it can even be fatal.

Most concussions occur without a loss of consciousness. It is important that children -- especially if involved in sports -- and parents, coaches and school nurses know the causes of concussions and symptoms. Some common symptoms of concussions are:

-- Balance problems or dizziness

-- Double or fuzzy vision

-- Sensitivity to light or noise

-- Headache

-- Feeling sluggish

-- Feeling foggy or groggy

-- Confusion

-- Concentration or memory problems

It is essential to see a health care professional, specifically a concussion management expert, if you suffer a concussion. Your physician will give you important instructions to follow. Here are some tips for children:

-- Keep a regular sleep schedule, including no late nights and no sleepovers. It’s important to get adequate rest while recovering.

-- Children should not engage in high-risk activities or return to play until they have their physician’s permission to do so.

-- Give the child only those drugs that are approved by the pediatrician or family physician.

-- Your child may need to spend fewer hours at school and need extra time taking tests until they fully recover.

Some tips to prevent traumatic brain injuries are:

-- Always wear a helmet for contact sports, biking, horse riding, skiing/snowboarding; or when riding a snowmobile, ATV, scooter, or a skateboard.

-- Always wear your seat belt when driving a car.

-- Always use the proper child safety seat for your child’s age, weight and height.

For more information, contact the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program at 717-531-SAFE (7233).

Shannon M. Kearns-DePatto is a health educator in the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and Safe Kids Dauphin County. Leigh G. Brown is a health educator in the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and Safe Kids Dauphin County.

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Last Updated March 23, 2012