Bob Saget’s Death Highlights Dangers of Head Injuries
TV star Bob Saget’s recent death from head trauma has raised awareness of the dangers of brain injuries and may leave you wondering when you should go to the ER after hitting your head.
While the extent and circumstances of Saget’s head injury remain in question, it is clear that head trauma can be serious — even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Head injuries send millions of people to the ER every year, and an estimated5.3 million people in the U.S. live with a disability caused by a traumatic brain injury. Death from traumatic brain injury, like Saget’s, is also common. About61,000 traumatic brain injury-related deaths happen in the U.S. every year.
Two Types of Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden impact to the head that causes harm to the brain. Common causes of TBI include car accidents, falls, physical assaults and sports injuries.
There are two main types of traumatic brain injury:
- Closed head injuries occur when an outside force impacts the head hard enough to injure the brain, but the skull is not broken or penetrated. A closed TBI may occur, for example, when the head strikes a dashboard in a car accident. This type of TBI can occur without a blow to the head. It can also come from unexpectedrapid neck movements, like whiplash.
- Penetrating (open) head injuries occur when an object hits the head forcefully enough to break, fracture or penetrate the skull and damage the brain tissue.
Should I Go to the ER?
Not every bump on the head warrants a trip to the ER, but what may appear to be a minor injury can be — or grow to be — something more serious.
You should go to the ER immediately if you suffer ahead injury at a high speed, like in a car accident or steep fall, or if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble with balance/walking
- Loss of consciousness and/or confusion after the injury
- No memory of the incident
After a head injury, pay close attention to how you feel in the hours and days following the incident. And keep an eye on family members or friends if they suffer a head injury. Contrary to popular belief, it is OK to let a person who suffered a head injury fall asleep and get rest. In fact,rest is an essential part of recovery.
Visit the emergency room as soon as possible if the following symptoms occur after initial impact:
- Behavior that is out of character, like mood swings or trouble focusing
- Changes in eyesight or trouble moving eyes
- Difficulty falling asleep or waking up
- Discharge of fluids from nose or ears
- Persistent headache
- Numbness in the arms/legs
- Slurred speech or trouble reading/writing
Short and Long-Term Effects of TBI
Traumatic brain injuries cause a wide range of side effects, some of which develop over time, depending on the severity of the injury, which falls into three categories: mild, moderate or severe.
A person with a mild TBI or concussion may experience short-term symptoms, including:
- Phobias related to light or noise levels
- Emotion dysregulation
- Memory problems
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Vision changes
These symptoms generally improve over time, and most people with a concussion or mild TBI feel better within a couple of weeks or months.
A person with a moderate or severe TBI may experience similar short-term symptoms as a mild TBI as well as:
- Balance problems
- Enlarged pupil(s)
- Inability or difficulty waking up after sleeping
- Increased agitation and/or confusion
- Periodic loss of consciousness
- Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
- Persistent or worsening headache
- Repeated vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Vision loss in one or both eyes
Symptoms of both types of TBI vary depending on the impacted area of the brain.
- Trauma to the frontal lobe (forehead area) may cause difficulties with impulse control, judgment, and problem-solving.
- Trauma to the left side of the brain may cause speech difficulties, trouble holding a conversation, and problems with planning and organization.
- Trauma to the right side of the brain may lead to problems with attention, memory, and executive function, making day-to-day tasks like brushing your teeth or driving more difficult.
These effects may last years or a lifetime. People who experience a moderate or severe TBI often requireongoing medical care and rehabilitation to help with their recovery.
Head Injury Treatment and Rehab
Treatment and rehabilitation are important parts of the recovery process for TBI patients. Patients with moderate to severe TBIs may initially receive treatment in the intensive care unit at the hospital during the acute phase. Once stable, they may be transferred to the hospital’s rehabilitation unit or an independent rehabilitation facility.