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Playing it safe, on and off the field

Playing it safe, on and off the field
Each year, traumatic brain injuries contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability. Data shows that, on average, approximately 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) annually.
A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI.
The degree of seriousness can range from “mild,” which causes a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to “severe,” which results in an extended period of unconsciousness or possibly, amnesia.
A concussion is a type of TBI that also occurs from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Although a concussion may be described as a “mild” TBI because it’s usually not life-threatening, a concussion should not be taken lightly; long-term effects can often lead to significant abnormality in brain function.
Concussions often occur during sports or recreation activities. The number of youth sports-related TBIs has increased 60 percent in young athletes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bicycling, football, and playground activities account for the greatest increase.
Because you can’t see a concussion, some athletes may not experience or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury.
Although most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully, for others, the signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.
A person who experiences any of the following signs and symptoms after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be examined immediately by a health care professional with experience evaluating concussions and head injuries:
• Appears dazed, stunned or sluggish; forgets an instruction
• Answers questions slowly
• Loses consciousness (even briefly)
• Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
• Can’t recall events prior to or after a hit or fall
• Has a headache, nausea or vomiting; dizziness; double or blurry vision; sensitivity to light or to noise
Severe Traumatic
Brain Injury
A non-fatal, severe TBI may result in an extended period of unconsciousness (coma) or amnesia. A TBI may lead to a wide range of short- or long-term issues affecting: cognitive function (e.g., attention and memory); motor function (e.g., extremity weakness, impaired coordination and balance); sensation (e.g., hearing, vision, impaired perception and touch); and/or emotion (e.g., depression, anxiety, aggression, personality changes).
The leading causes of TBI are falls (35.2 percent), especially among children age 0 – 4 and older adults age 75 and older; motor vehicle accidents (17.3 percent); struck by/against events (16.5 percent); and assaults (10 percent).
People age 75 years and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death. For these individuals, doctors suggest regular exercise, focusing on increasing leg strength and improving balance; a frequent review of medications by their doctor or pharmacist to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness; have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year; make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding stair railings and improving lighting in their homes.
For all ages, there are many ways to reduce the chances of a concussion or other form of TBI, including:
• Buckle your child in the car using a height, weight and age-appropriate safety seat.
• Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.
• Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Wear a helmet and make sure your children wear helmets when participating in contact sports activities.
• Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows; and use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.
• Make sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood mulch or sand.
The key is to promote a safe environment for children and adults to prevent head injuries from occurring. In addition, if you have a child who plays sports, make sure the team coach has a basic understanding of concussions and TBIs. If you suspect that a loved one has experienced even a mild head trauma, call 911 or get to the closest emergency room as soon as possible.
Learn more at Click on the “Health Resources” and search “Head Injuries” to read several informative articles, as well as to view a video on concussions.
Editor’s note: Jack Baltz is a certified nurse practitioner. He has a master’s degree in nursing from Vanderbilt University and his nurse practitioner from the University of Tennessee in Memphis.
Baltz specializes in acute care of illnesses and injuries. He also manages the care of patients with chronic illnesses.

WCP 9.18.12