Head injuries are one of the leading causes of disability and death in people under 45. They occur as a result of a blow or jolt to the head and can result in permanent or temporary damage to the brain.
What is a traumatic brain injury?
When an injury occurs initially, at the moment of impact, it is known as the primary injury. This can either affect a small part or specific lobe of the brain or can damage the whole brain. During the impact, the brain can smash against the inside of the skull, tearing nerve fibres and causing bruising and bleeding to the brain.
Immediately after an accident someone could be confused; may be briefly unconscious, have blurred vision or feel a bit sick. Sometimes it will seem as if they recover and appear fine, but then swiftly deteriorate. This could occur as a result of delayed trauma, which causes a secondary brain injury due to compression, which can cause even more damage than the primary injury.
Compression occurs as the brain swells. Swelling is a perfectly normal and usually helpful response to injury and occurs as extra oxygenated blood, fluid and nutrients are brought to the injured area. However, the problem with swelling of the brain is that the skull forms a rigid box, resulting in increasing pressure on the brain which can constrict and damage other areas of the brain that were not damaged during the initial impact. Although this swelling usually occurs within the first 48 hours, it can occur up to 5 days after the injury (or later if there is another head injury).
What are the symptoms?
Depending on the type and location of the injury, the person’s symptoms may include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Memory loss / amnesia
- Unequal pupils
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Visual problems
- Poor attention / concentration
- Dizziness / loss of balance
- Irritability / emotional disturbances
- Feelings of depression
Every patient is unique and some injuries can involve more than one area or a partial section, making it difficult to predict which specific symptoms the patient will experience.
First Aid for a brain injury:
- Maintain both your safety and that of the casualty
- Quickly assess the patient for any immediate life threatening injuries – check for a response and if they are breathing normally. (If unconscious and breathing carefully put into the recovery position, whilst doing your best to keep their spine in line – keep checking that they are breathing; if unconscious and not breathing start CPR)
- If someone suffering from compression is given immediate medical treatment in hospital; the prognosis is far better. They may be treated with rest and observation, medication, or may require surgery to relieve the pressure on the brain.
- Keep monitoring the casualty for at least the next 48 hours and ensure they are not left on their own for any prolonged length of time; let others know that they have had a head injury. Observe for any of the above symptoms and if concerned call an ambulance.
- More in-depth methods and tips on how to perform First Aid on a brain injury will be taught in our courses.
It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please contact us for more information about our courses. In the event it happens, we strongly suggest you seek urgent medical advice and go to hospital. We recommend affinity Health a provider of affordable Hospital plans and Day to Day Healthcare insurance to South Africans.