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Sharp Health News

When hitting your head can be serious

Feb. 9, 2022

When hitting your head can be serious
It happens to all of us — standing up too quickly below an open cabinet or falling off a bike or scooter — but some accidental head injuries can be more serious than others.

An estimated 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with a concussion every year. With so many people being affected, it’s important to know how even a minor injury to your head can affect your daily life.

What is a mild traumatic brain injury?
A mild traumatic brain injury, also called a concussion, occurs when the head is moved quickly and abruptly, either due to a sudden force (like a blow to the head) or deceleration (an abrupt stop of movement from whiplash or a fall). There may be brief loss of consciousness — less than 20 minutes — or a period of confusion.

What happens to your brain?
“When a brain injury occurs, the soft tissue of the brain collides against the hard surface of the skull,” says Dr. Jerome Stenehjem, a physical medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Nerve fibers may be stretched or torn, which can affect brain function, even in mild cases.”

Some symptoms occur immediately, but others — especially in more mild injuries — may become noticeable as you return to your daily routine.

Common symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury include:
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Poor or double vision
  • Changes in smell or appetite
  • Poor hearing or ringing in the ears
  • Forgetfulness
  • Thinking more slowly
  • Distractibility or poor concentration
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
Most people experience some of these symptoms occasionally. However, if multiple symptoms occur after a head trauma and seem to get worse, then seek medical attention. Thankfully, most people notice an improvement in their symptoms within days or weeks and return to feeling normal within one to three months; however, for some, recovery takes longer.

If you experience a mild brain injury, consider these suggestions until your symptoms have resolved:

DO
  • Rest and pace yourself
  • Return to your daily routine gradually
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Schedule important work earlier in the day, away from distractions and interruptions
  • Use caution in assuming responsibilities at home, school or work without supervision
  • Avoid strenuous exercise
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages
  • Take only the medicine prescribed by your doctor
DO NOT
  • Participate in contact sports or other activities where another head trauma may occur
  • Make major business or life decisions
  • Drive a car if you are unsure of your ability to drive
  • Push yourself beyond what you can do comfortably and safely
Follow up on lingering symptoms
"If your symptoms last for many months or cause problems in work, school, family or social responsibilities, you should notify your doctor," says Dr. Stenehjem. "Your doctor may recommend you see a health professional who specializes in evaluation and treatment of mild traumatic brain injury."

Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center at Sharp Memorial Hospital provides comprehensive services for people experiencing a mild to severe traumatic brain injury. Call 858-939-3866 to learn more.

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