How hard must you hit your head for it to be serious?
Whacking your head on a kitchen cabinet or slipping on a wet floor isn’t a big deal, right? Neurosurgeon Roham Moftakhar, MD, said depending on the person’s age and injury, a blow to the head can be dangerous and even deadly. He shared what you need to know about brain injuries and what to do if you hit your head.
What causes brain injuries?
Falls are the most common cause, accounting for 48% of all brain injuries. Other causes include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Anoxic or a hypoxic injury, which can happen with a near drowning
Traumatic brain injuries can be mild, moderate or severe. Concussion, which is classified as mild, is the most common type of brain injury. In this case, you don’t have to hit your head at all. A whiplash incident – such as being involved in a car accident – can be enough.
“Essentially your brain is sitting in a closed box called your skull,” Dr. Moftakhar said. “When you fall and hit your head – or experience whiplash – the brain has an impact with your skull from within. It can start bruising and become swollen.”
Sometimes a brain injury can cause bleeding, either between the brain and the skull or within the brain itself. This is especially dangerous among older people and those who regularly take aspirin or are on blood thinner medications.
“As we age, the brain shrinks and the space between the brain and the skull increases, so the bridging veins tend to leak more blood,” Dr. Moftakhar explained. “A slow bleed can occur and worsen to a point where it’s putting a lot of pressure on the brain, causing massive swelling.”
What are the signs of a brain injury?
Any time you hit your head, it’s important to watch out for symptoms. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear right away. However, swelling can progress over time during what is called the lucid interval. Dr. Moftakhar recommends keeping an eye on someone who’s had a head injury to assess if their symptoms are getting worse.
“If you experience worsening headaches, nausea, blurry vision or facial droop, seek medical attention right away,” Dr. Moftakhar said. “These are signs that neurologically the state of health is declining. Call 911 or go to the emergency room.”
Not every bump to the head requires a visit to the ER, but if you’re concerned, Dr. Moftakhar said it’s better to be safe and get it checked out.
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