Head Injury Awareness Day

Head Injury Awareness Day

Brain and Head Injury Awareness Month takes place globally in March every year. The day is bound on empowering traumatic brain injury survivors, promoting various support services and destigmatising brain injury. 

According to the South African government’s official website, head injury is a devastating condition that causes major psychosocial complications. Many suffer serious brain injuries that are largely viewed as inconsequential, but in reality, such injuries cause devastating impairments that destroy lives just as effectively as more severe injuries.

The World Head Injury Awareness Day is on March 20th. The day shines a light on the thousands of people who suffer from a mild bump on their head to severe brain injury each year. It is there to teach people how to reduce the number of avoidable yet potentially life-threatening and life-altering accidents. Head Injury Awareness advocates the proper use of helmets and seat belts, says the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Over 5% of people get serious brain injury in South Africa each year. 

According to the mid-year estimates of Statistics South Africa (July 2009), an estimate of 89 000 cases of new traumatic brain injuries are reported annually.

The Injuries

There are two distinct categories of injury. Non-traumatic brain injuries come from infectious diseases, electric shock, toxic exposure, metabolic disorders, neurotoxic poisoning, lack of oxygen and drug overdose. 

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) come from accidents like car and motorcycle accidents, sports injuries, abusive head trauma, gunshot wounds and workplace injuries. Of the head injury cases, TBIs number the highest and fall into three levels of severity – mild, moderate and severe. 

The Glasgow coma scale, which examines motor response, verbal ability, disorientation, slow thinking and eye-opening, is used to determine the severity of the injury. Patient responses are ranked on a total score of 3 to 15, with the higher scores for the mild TBI and the low scores for the severe TBI cases. 

About 40.5 % of all TBIs are from falls. Elderly people and active adolescents, and young adults are thus in a high-risk category for TBI-related injuries. The quick response of the medical staff who do the first assessments makes all the difference in how the injury will unfurl over the following days. 

Witnessing an injury

Any witnesses to someone being injured play an important role in providing valuable information to the first medical team on the scene, as this can provide clues to the severity of the injury. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the key questions witnesses are likely to be asked;

  • How did the injury happen
  • Did the person blackout and for how long?
  • Is there any loss of alertness? Can you detect wobbliness when the person tried to stand or move? Does the patient have slurred speech or loss of words? Were there other signs of injury?
  • Where were the head and other parts of the body hit?
  • Was it a heavy fall, such as being thrown from a bike or car? Did you hear a loud crack when the person’s head hit the ground? How far did the person fall? Did their head hit something solid?
  • Did you notice the body being jerked forward and then backward as they fell?

All these answers can provide a valuable assessment for trauma room staff who will do X-rays and a CT-scan for a detailed view of the brain. They can see fractures of the skull and the spinal cord.

The scans also detect if there is bleeding in the brain (haemorrhaging), blood clots (hematomas), bruised brain tissue (contusions) and brain tissue swelling. The latter may cause pressure in the brain, resulting in further damage. 

Head injury Treatment

The severity of the head injury determines the treatment, and it works like this:

  • Closely monitor mild traumatic brain injuries. Check for new or worsening symptoms like persistent headaches or vomiting. They usually require no other medical intervention. Patients may be given painkillers for headache. Follow-up check-ups with the doctor are essential.
  • The doctor will clear the patient for return to work or school. Usually, patients are advised to take it easy, rest, cut back on screen and loud music time, don’t over-think and return gradually to normal activities 
  • Immediate emergency care for moderate and severe TBI’s consists of ensuring adequate supplies of oxygen and blood transfusion, blood pressure maintenance and preventing further head and neck injury
  • Severe TBI’s are usually treated in the trauma unit or intensive care unit.  The focus is on minimising secondary damage caused by inflammation, bleeding or reduced oxygen supply to the brain. 
  • Surgery may be needed to repair skull fractures, remove haematoma (blocked clots), stop bleeding on the brain, and open a window in the skull. This relieves pressure and drains intracranial fluid from the brain.
  • Medications for moderate to severe TBI may include: anti-seizure drugs as seizures may occur up to a week after being injured and diuretics to release fluid build-up.   

Head injury Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is always on the cards for people who suffered a major brain injury as they may need to learn basic skills like walking, talking and taking care of themselves. Therapy begins while they are still in hospital and continue at an in-patient rehab unit or out-patient care, depending on the severity of their TBI. The focus is always on improving the capacity to do daily tasks.

If you are in an accident or someone you know has sustained injuries, having the iER app can save a life. 

The iER app is a free emergency application for any smart device. The App is a panic button for a variety of situations. 

It is a one-click solution available for every situation. 

There is no membership fee. Members can utilise the iER application, although data or a Wi-Fi connection.

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