Car accidents are one of the leading causes of head injuries. Between the whipping motion your head experiences in a collision to the potential for impact during the crash, heads are vulnerable to a number of injuries. Your skull is resilient, and it's designed that way for an extremely important reason - to protect your brain.
As a result, if you sustain any head injuries from a car crash, it's critical to receive testing and scans to get a complete image of the extent of your injuries. Many injuries, such as bruises, swelling and fractures, are major red flags that brain damage may have occurred. If so, you could be at risk of severe and permanent brain damage.
Types of Head Injuries
Skull fractures - Car accidents leave the head susceptible to contact. If these collisions place enough pressure on the skull, it can fracture. Fractures can leave the brain vulnerable to significant damage. Complex fractures can splinter off bone fragments that can lead to further tissue damage.
Lacerations - Cuts and scrapes can be a sign of deeper tissue damage and lead to infection.
Bruises - Hard head impacts can create discoloration. You need to be certain there are no underlying issues that result from the impact that caused your bruising.
Swelling and tenderness around the impacted area - Swelling can be uncomfortable and painful, but it can also be a risk for cranial pressure that compromises brain function.
Head injuries can be severe and painful on their own. However, the brain is such a critical organ that any further complications can lead to significant repercussions. Pay close attention to your symptoms and obtain the necessary scans and tests to properly identify potential underlying issues such as:
- Hematoma - Hematoma is a blood clot that develops in your head. Blood clots can put pressure on the brain, which can lead to cognitive malfunction.
- Hemorrhage - Hemorrhaging is significant bleeding within the head following an accident. This blood can lead to swelling and pressure on the brain, which can cause severe complications.
- Concussion - If a head injury is significant, or you experienced whiplash in your car accident, your brain may have been shaken within your skull. This motion can create a concussion.
- Brain injuries - Similar to a concussion, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the brain is bounced or twisted within the skull. As an extremely sensitive and important organ, the brain is not designed to withstand any contact. Consequently, it is critical to receive immediate medical attention following a head injury and receive thorough diagnostic testing to identify any underlying issues.
Should You See a Doctor Following a Car Accident
Car accident victims are often left in shock after a wreck. This jolt of adrenaline that your body experiences can mask many minor and potentially severe injuries. These injuries can compound upon one another or worsen if they go undiagnosed and untreated. Don't make any assumptions following a car accident. Play it safe and seek medical attention, especially if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Headache that persists or gets worse.
- Bleeding from nose or ears.
- Confusion or disorientation.
- Memory loss.
- Ringing in ears.
- Spinning sensation.
- Inability to focus eyes.
- Abnormal eye movement.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Mood changes.
- Lack of balance or muscle control.
Treating Head Injuries
Receiving prompt treatment after a car accident is critical to stabilize your injuries and receive a comprehensive diagnosis for the full extent of your body's condition. Head injuries are certainly no exception.
Emergency care - An ER doctor may stabilize your head to reduce the risk of further injury. If any compound (open) wounds or fractures are present, the doctor will work to remove damaged tissue, reduce fluid buildup and stitch together the wound.
If a skull fracture is present, you may be sent to a surgeon for more specialized care. Indented skull fractures or complex fractures can place pressure on the brain, which can cause permanent damage. Compromised sections of the skull can be removed and repositioned or replaced to limit the risk of brain damage.
You will likely be prescribed medications to help manage pain, reduce swelling and, if needed, prevent infection.
R.I.C.E. - Head injuries, outside of complex skull fractures, will simply require the body to heal itself naturally. This can take some time depending on the severity of the injury. In order to prevent further complications such as fluid buildup, anti-inflammatory measures can be taken such as ice, compression and elevation. Resting will also allow your body to recover without the risk of further injury. If you've sustained a major head injury from a car accident, don't jump right back into your normal daily activities.
Aside from your ER trip, follow up your car accident with regular visits to your PCP, chiropractor or orthopedist to receive continued updates on your condition and guidance for easing yourself back into regular activity. Recovery is just as important as the treatment itself. Meet with a medical professional to ensure that you're on track to make a complete recovery.
If you have a concussion or TBI, you may want to see either a neurologist or a physiatrist, the two medical specialists that treat those conditions.