With the start of the academic year and intramural and interscholastic sports, parents and coaches have a special role in protecting young athletes from head injuries.
That is the caution of Francis J. Flynn, Psy.D, CAP, director of the Brain Training Centers of Florida.
“Any trauma that leads to injury of the scalp, skull, or brain has to be considered a trauma,” cautions Dr. Flynn, who noted that there are two types of head injuries – closed, resulting from a hard blow to the skull from hitting the skull or being hit; and open or penetrating, resulting the skull actually being broken and/or entered by an object.
“It’s risky, even life threatening, to underplay the importance of even minor hits to the head, especially if the student athlete becomes disoriented. “There’s no such thing as ‘just a little hit to the head’ or being ‘a little dizzy for a couple of minutes,’” cautions Flynn.
While concussions – in which the brain is shaken – are the most common type of traumatic brain injury, contusions or brain bruising can also be a be a cause for concern. A subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissues that covers the brain; a subdural hematoma – usually the result of a serious head injury – is a collection of blood on the surface of the brain. Acute subdural hematomas are among the deadliest of all head injuries, with blood filling the brain area very rapidly and compressing brain tissue. Surprisingly subdural hematomas can occur after a very minor head injury – especially among the very young and elderly – and may be unnoticed for days or weeks. In any subdural hematoma, tiny veins between the brain and its outer covering – the dura – stretch and tear. Subdural hematomas often result from reoccurring falls and repeated head injuries.
Parents and coaches should recognize the symptoms of possibly serious brain injuries:
· Confused or slurred speech
· Decreased consciousness and alertness
· Eyes – pupils – different sizes
· Difficulty with balance or walking or loss of movement or feeling
· Mood and personality changes, including confusion and irritability
· Lethargy (unexplained feeling tired) or confusion
· Muscle aches – especially neck and shoulder pains
· Loss of consciousness
· Nausea and vomiting
· Visual disturbances
· Drooping eyelid(s)
In the event of any of these symptoms after even the slightest blow to the head, individuals should see a physician – in an emergency room, if necessary, cautions Flynn.