Head Injuries

head injuries

At some point or another, most people bump their heads. Sometimes it results in swelling or a mild headache, but the discomfort goes away on its own. Other times, the injuries can have life-threatening complications if you don’t seek medical attention promptly.

How can you tell where on the spectrum do you fall? When can icing and ibuprofen do the trick, and when should you go to the ER?

What Is a Head Injury?

Any trauma to the scalp, skull, or brain is considered to be a head injury. For the most part, the skull protects the brain from extensive damage. However, it is possible for the skull itself to crack and expose the brain to damage after a catastrophic injury.

On the other end of the spectrum, a person can experience a minor bump on their forehead. That said, it’s important to be aware of the fact that, while they can range in severity, it’s hard to know how serious an injury may be just by looking at it. And since complications from a serious injury could lead to permanent disability, you should never assume that you can just “tough it out” and wait for the pain to go away.

What Causes Head Injuries?

There are two main ways of experiencing a head injury:

Trauma: These are injuries typically associated with physical assault, sports-related accidents, falls, and motor vehicle accidents. Less frequent but just as deadly are penetrating brain injuries, which are the result of trauma due to a projectile, such as a bullet or stabbing.

Shaking: These injuries are most common in small children and infants, but can occur to anyone who experiences violent shaking. Also known as Abusive Head Trauma (AHT), it encompasses shaking a child or striking their head against a hard surface. This causes the child’s head to move uncontrollably, moving the brain back and forth, tearing brain tissue and rupturing blood vessels. In addition, the movements may cause the brain to become bruised from all the times it hits the skull.

What Are the Symptoms of a Head Injury?

Since your head has more blood vessels than other parts of your body, bleeding on the surface or within the brain is a cause for concern when your head is injured. Not all head injuries bleed, so it is important to know the symptoms to look out for. Since many symptoms of a serious brain injury don’t appear immediately, it is important to monitor your symptoms for several days after your head injury.

Minor Head Injury Symptoms

Common symptoms of a minor head injury include:

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mild confusion
  • Nausea
  • A spinning sensation
  • Temporary ringing in the ears

Severe Head Injury Symptoms

Common symptoms of a severe head injury include:

  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Balance or coordination problems
  • Changes in mood
  • Inability to focus the eyes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Persistent or worsening headache
  • Serious disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Leaking of clear fluid from the ears or nose

Types of Head Injuries

The most common head injuries are concussions, scalp wounds, and skull fractures. Consequences and treatments will vary depending on the severity of the injury and what caused it.

Head injuries fall into two broad categories – opened or closed. An opened, or penetrating, injury happens when your scalp and skull are broken. A closed injury is any head injury that doesn’t break your skull.

1. Concussions

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when your brain is jolted back and forth too quickly, causing damage to brain cells, blood vessels, and nerves. If the blow to the head was significant enough, it may also cause the brain to bleed. While they are most commonly caused by trauma to the head, they may also be the result of a hard blow to your upper body.

Concussion Symptoms

Symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sensitivity to light or noises
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

2. Cerebral Edemas

Edema is swelling due to excess water in your body’s tissues. Within the context of head injuries, cerebral edema (or edema of the brain) can be the result of either head trauma or certain illnesses, such as meningitis, encephalitis, or cancer. This brain swelling can be deadly, since it increases pressure inside your skull, as well as obstructing blood flow to the brain.

Brain Swelling or Edema Symptoms

Symptoms of edema can vary greatly from person to person, depending on the severity of the swelling. These include:

3. Diffuse Axonal Injuries

Axons are the thin, threadlike fibers of nerve cells that send impulses to other cells. Neurons are nerve cells that transmit information throughout your body. If axons in the brain are injured, neurons cannot communicate, resulting in degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease. If a person’s brain shifts inside the skull during an injury, the movement can cause axons to cut off, eventually leaving the person in a coma.

Diffuse Axonal Injury Symptoms

If a person experiences a mild diffuse axonal injury, they may remain conscious, yet experience a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping longer than usual
  • Disorientation

4. Subdural Hematomas

Dura mater is a thick membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It’s the outermost layer that protects a person’s nervous system. A subdural hematoma is the medical for when blood collects underneath dura mater after a head injury. This can result in increased pressure on the brain, which may lead to unconsciousness or even death. While this type of head injury may occur to anyone who experiences a significant blow to the head, it’s more likely to occur on people who are taking blood thinners.

Subdural Hematoma Symptoms

In some instances, a person with a subdural hematoma may lose consciousness immediately. In other cases, symptoms may not show up for days, or sometimes even weeks. These include:

  • Progressively becoming more confused
  • Changes in behavior
  • Dizziness
  • Apathy
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

5. Brain Hemorrhages

Brain hemorrhages occur when an artery in the brain bursts. In addition to loss of blood, this type of injury also results in the death of brain cells. This type of injury can be the result of trauma to the head, high blood pressure, brain tumor, or an aneurysm.

Brain Hemorrhage Symptoms

Symptoms may vary depending on the amount of brain tissue affected, and they include the following:

6. Cranial Fractures

This type of injury involves a crack or break on the skull. There are different types of cranial fractures: Closed (when the skin over the fracture isn’t broken). Open (when the skin breaks and bone pokes out), Basal (injury to the base of the skull, behind the ears, nose, or back of the neck), and Depressed (when the skull is indented).

Symptoms of Cranial Fracture

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Pupils do not react to light
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you or a loved one have a medical emergency, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

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