In the United States alone, nearly 3 million people seek out medical attention or die from traumatic brain injury every year. Most cases of traumatic brain injury are mild. These are most commonly known as concussions.
Concussions have become a hot-button over the past few years as research has shed a light on the effects concussions have on people. No more has the concussion debate become a greater concern than in sports — from youth leagues to the pros. More than 300,000 children 19 or younger are treated in emergency rooms for concussions or traumatic brain injuries every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1.
Despite being common injuries, concussions can have a profound effect on the brain and may even result in death if left undetected. Learn more about concussions and their symptoms.
A concussion is a mild type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking of the upper body. Although it is considered the most common and least serious type of brain injury, a concussion causes damage to the brain that affects how it functions.
The brain is the most important organ in the body because it controls nearly everything, from thinking to breathing. While the brain does have several mechanisms to keep it safe, these features are not infallible.
The skull is the outermost layer of protection that keeps the brain from being hit directly. Between the skull and the brain is a protective liquid barrier called cerebrospinal fluid. It is there to provide cushioning to the brain.
During a sudden jolt to the head, the clear fluid absorbs a lot of the impact but sloshes around inside the skull as a result. Unfortunately, the fluid carries the brain with it. As the brain sloshes back and forth, it will repeatedly hit the skull. Most people assume these strikes against the skull cause bruising on the outside of the brain. However, the damage is being done on a much deeper level.
Several chemical changes and crises occur in the brain during the impact that alter how the brain sends and receives signals. Nerve cells and fibers start to stretch while blood vessels break and cause small hemorrhages, further causing damage to the brain cells. The brain essentially stops functioning how it should.
What makes concussions so dangerous is that sometimes there are no outward symptoms. People used to assume that you had a concussion only if you had lost consciousness. That’s simply not the case.
The symptoms of a concussion will depend on the severity of the injury and the part of the brain that suffered the injury. These are some of the most common concussion symptoms to keep an eye out for:
Can babies and toddlers suffer concussions? The answer is an emphatic yes. Not only can babies and toddlers suffer head injuries but they are among the most frequent victims of concussions.
While the symptoms are mostly the same, babies are not able to verbalize their symptoms. It is important to look for unusual sleeping patterns, vomiting, bumps on the head, irritability, and crying when moving the head.
Toddlers are typically just learning to walk and explore the world. This makes them prone to accidental falls and other injuries. Again, symptoms are usually the same but toddlers may be able to talk about what they’re feeling a little more.
Here are some things to look for in toddlers.
There is a subset of injury related to concussions called post-concussion syndrome. This occurs following a concussion and is marked by prolonged symptoms like headaches and dizziness. The Mayo Clinic2 says that symptoms occur within the first seven to 10 days and resolve within three months. However, symptoms can last for a year or longer.
The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are mostly the same as the symptoms of a concussion — only they last much longer. One of the most common symptoms of the syndrome is a headache that could feel like a migraine. There could also be changes to a person’s behavior or personality.
Some estimates put the number of people who develop persistent concussion symptoms at around 15 percent of those with a single concussion. There is a debate on what exactly causes post-concussion syndrome. Some argue the symptoms are due to psychological factors while others say they are caused by actual structural damage to the brain. Others believe it is a mixture of the two.
Research has found evidence that there may be physiological changes to the chemical composition of the brain that may play a role in the changes following a concussion. Certain factors like age and sex increase the risk of developing the syndrome.
Although the risk for longer symptoms increases with age, children are also susceptible to post-concussion syndrome.
A 2014 study published in Pediatrics found that children and young adults sometimes had lingering effects months after the physical symptoms faded away3. About a quarter of the children in the study still had a headache a month after their injury. Emotional symptoms also developed later.
The CDC keeps track of the types of injuries that take place in the United States. While the numbers include all types of traumatic brain injuries, they give a general idea as to what situations lead to concussions the most.
Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury and concussion. The CDC reports that they affect the young and old disproportionately. This is likely attributed to the fact that children are still learning to walk and control their impulses while the elderly are more susceptible to a loss of balance and weakness in the legs.
Being struck by or against an object is the second most common cause of traumatic brain injury. This includes a wide range of situations, from getting hit by a rock to walking into a beam.
Car crashes are the third most common cause of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. This includes smaller accidents like fender benders that cause the head to jerk around and head-on collisions that eject a passenger from the vehicle.
Awareness around the short- and long-term effects of concussions has been centered around sports, specifically football.
Even though the concerns around football and concussions began in the early 1900s, an official review did not take place by the NFL until 1994. It took dozens of papers of research and an outcry from players for the league to acknowledge that concussions are a concern for its players.
Concussions themselves are dangerous, but mounting research suggests repeated blows to the head could lead to degenerative brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The diseases not only affect players physically but can also change the way they behave and think, sometimes leading to suicide.
After thousands of former players filed lawsuits against the league over hiding the dangers of concussions and failing to protect its players, the NFL reached an estimated settlement of $1 billion.
Concussions in the NFL have received the most media coverage, but concerns have also been raised over concussions in youth sports.
Many concussions occur in sports at the college and high school levels that go undetected and untreated. This can not only lead to long-term injuries but blows to the head immediately following a concussion can lead to death.
Concussions are usually preventable, but when they are caused by the negligence or reckless behavior of another person, the victim and their family may be able to file a lawsuit. A qualified attorney will be able to tell you whether you have a case against an individual or organization that caused you to suffer a concussion.
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