Important steps to take after head injury
Many of us bump our head and think nothing of it. Unfortunately, a seemingly benign head injury can prove fatal. Actor and comedian Bob Saget died of “blunt head trauma,” according to the autopsy report released by the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“It is in my opinion that the death of Robert Saget, a 65-year-old white male found unresponsive in a hotel room, is the result of blunt head trauma. It is the most probable that the decedent suffered an unwitnessed fall backwards and struck the posterior aspect of his head. The manner of death is accident,” the statement from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua D. Stephany said in his report.
We might wonder how this could be fatal. The human brain is the control system for all the different activities in the body. As is the heart, the brain is one of the most vital organs in the body.
Head injuries are among the most common causes of disability and death in adults.
Numerous kinds of injury
The broad term “head injury” describes a vast array of injuries that damage the brain, skull or scalp, and can be mild, moderate or severe. Common types include concussion, contusion, skull fracture and hematoma.
A concussion is a jarring injury to the brain, while a contusion is a bruise on the brain with minor bleeding or swelling. A crack in the skull is a fracture that can lead to other injuries due to bone fragments piercing the brain. A hematoma causes bleeding that collects, clots and forms a bump.
Head injuries are also commonly referred to as brain injury or traumatic brain injury (TBI), depending on the extent of the head trauma.
Nearly 1.7 million people have a TBI each year. Millions of Americans are alive today who have experienced a head injury and now need help with activities of daily living, costing the country more than $56 billion per year.
There are several causes of head injuries. The most common traumatic injuries are from motor vehicle accidents (automobiles, motorcycles, or struck as a pedestrian), from violence, falls or child abuse.
When to see a doctor
It is normal to have a headache and nausea with a head injury. You may be dizzy or disoriented right afterward and may have problems focusing or remembering.
Other symptoms may include ringing in your ears, neck pain and vision problems. These symptoms often go away in a few weeks but may last longer if the injury is severe.
If you suffer a head injury, seek medical help immediately if you experience the following: any symptom that gets worse, such as headaches, nausea or fatigue; frequent vomiting; pupils that are bigger than usual (dilated) or of different sizes; trouble walking, speaking or breathing; drainage of bloody or clear fluids from the ears or nose; loss of consciousness or seizures.
In any of these cases you should see a doctor, as the full extent of an injury is determined with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing, such as blood tests, X-ray, computed tomography scan (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment is individualized, depending on the extent of the condition and the presence of other injuries. Age, overall health, medical history, and the scope and type of the head injury determine the specific treatment.
To reduce your risk
We cannot always avoid head injuries, but we can do things to decrease our risk, such as wearing a seatbelt in the car, using a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle, wearing proper protective gear at work or when playing sports, and keeping a close watch on children and older people for falls or accidents.
It is essential to treat all head injuries seriously and have them assessed by a doctor.
Nancy Schaaf is a retired nurse and educator.