Traumatic Brain Injury: What It Is and How to Prevent It

September, along with being the month when Hampton Roads students return to school and signaling the start of autumn, is National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when external mechanical forces — like a violent jolt or blow to the head or body — cause brain dysfunction. It’s not always an easy topic to discuss, but even a mild TBI can cause some serious consequences. Severe TBI can result in death.

Some of the most common causes of TBI are falls, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or violent behaviors. TBI can also be caused by explosions or combat injuries. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure the health and safety of your family and reduce risk for TBI.

  • Always wear seat belts in a motor vehicle. Keep kids in the back seat and secure them appropriately with car seats or booster seats that are installed appropriately for their size and weight.
  • Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Don’t get into a car where the driver is under the influence.
  • Take measures to prevent falls in your home: Install non-slip pads and railings in bathtubs and showers, keep your home well-lit, remove area rugs, and keep stairs and walkways free of clutter. Install gates at the tops of staircases, and consider window guards. Don’t let children play on balconies or fire escapes.
  • Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, motorcycle, skateboard, or all-terrain vehicle. It’s also important to wear a helmet when playing contact sports or baseball, riding a horse, skating, snowboarding, or skiing.
  • Never hit or shake babies or children. Shaken baby syndrome is a type of traumatic brain injury. For that matter, don’t hit adults, either! If you feel that a situation is escalating to the point where there is a possibility of physical violence, walk away and come back to it when you have a cooler head.

If you or a loved one have experienced a blow to the head or possible head injury, seek immediate medical help — even if there don’t appear to be any symptoms or if the symptoms seem mild. Symptoms may include (but are not limited to) confusion, anxiety or depression, headache, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, or dizziness. Symptoms may not appear for hours, days, or even weeks, but the consequences of the injury can get worse quickly without treatment.

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