Heads up: Tips for preventing concussions

January 14, 2015 By Ellen Leonard, M.D.

Everyone hits his or her head now and then. Sometimes the result is just a bump without any serious effects. Other times, the result can be an injury to the brain, our most vital organ.

A concussion diagnosis falls under the category of a minor brain injury. And while some concussions may be less serious than others, there is no such thing as a minor one, says the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). One concussion usually doesn't cause permanent damage, but a second that comes close on the heels of the first can be deadly or permanently disabling, the AANS says.

Cushioning the blow
Each year, approximately 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions and other mild TBIs account for about 75 percent of these injuries. Common causes of head injury include traffic accidents, accidents on the job or at home, falls, physical assaults and sports injuries.

Bicycling, in-line skating, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, playing team sports—all require helmets. In addition to wearing the correct helmet for your sport, take these preventive steps to help you and your family avoid head injuries:

Always wear a seat belt and make sure the kids are buckled, too. Small children should use a child safety seat or booster seat, if necessary.

Don't drink alcohol when driving or participating in sports.

Exercise regularly to maintain balance and strength.

Buckle children into shopping carts.

Keep your home safe from accidental falls by clearing floors of clutter, securing throw rugs, using skid-proof mats in the bathtub, securing stairway handrails and keeping walkways well lit.

Install window guards to keep young children from falling out and use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.

Prevent playground injuries by ensuring playground surfaces are made of shock-absorbing materials such as mulch or sand.

Seek treatment
The same force that causes a concussion may also cause swelling or tearing of a blood vessel or an artery in the brain. If not treated by a doctor, those injuries can have serious consequences. If you or a family member experiences any of these symptoms after a fall or accident, consult your doctor:

• confusion, memory loss or concentration problems

• prolonged headaches

• vision problems

• dizziness

• nausea or vomiting

• balance problems

• ringing ears

• light sensitivity

• loss of smell or taste

Ellen Leonard, M.D., is a pediatrician at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.