According to a CDC report to the U.S. Congress, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) remain a leading cause of death and disability. Each year, an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a brain injury, ranging from a mild concussion to a severe TBI. Approximately 50,000 of these injury victims die, and as many as 90,000 are left with significant disabilities or impairment. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of brain injuries, responsible for more than half of these injuries globally. This type of injury may result from blunt-force trauma to the head during the crash, or from the violent shaking a brain might experience in a crash, even if there is no impact to the head itself.
A brain injury causes temporary or permanent disruption to the brain’s function which impacts nearly all body systems.
Concussions From Car Accidents
Concussions are the most common form of traumatic brain injury, occurring in car accidents from direct outside impact or from a sudden jarring motion that causes the brain to bump against the bony interior of the skull. Most concussion victims experience loss of consciousness. Depending on the severity of the concussion, the symptoms can range from headache and dizziness to bleeding on the brain with more extended loss of consciousness and permanent damage to nerves and brain function.
Contusions in the Brain
A contusion is a bruise, which may not be significant on other parts of the body, but can cause severe trauma to highly delicate and critical brain tissue. Like all bruises, a brain contusion results from trauma to the brain that causes bleeding within the tissues. If the bruised portion of the brain is large, the symptoms become more severe, with violent headaches, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. The most severe contusions may require surgery to remove pressure from swelling.
Diffuse Axonal Brain Injury
A violent crash can cause the brain to twist inside the head, tearing the delicate tissue of the brain away from the lining of the skull. This causes damage to the sensitive nerve tissue that could be permanent. While the brain may find ways to regenerate or transfer function to the undamaged portion of the brain, the more extensive the diffuse axonal brain injury, the longer it takes for recovery. Some victims of diffuse axonal injury may be left with significant impairment and in the worst cases may not survive the injury.
A Penetrating Brain Injury
Though penetrating brain injuries are more common from gunshot wounds and assaults, a penetrating injury may occur in a car accident when a projectile or part of the car penetrates the skull during the crash, resulting in an open wound, sometimes with fragments of bone and/or metal penetrating into the brain tissue and causing bleeding and damage.
Impacts of Brain Injuries From Car Accidents
Depending on the severity of the injury, traumatic brain injuries can cause short-term health problems or long-term problems as well as permanent disabilities, impairment, or death. A mild TBI like a mild concussion may cause the following symptoms:
- Sensitivity to noise and light
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
Most car accident victims with mild concussions may recover at home after a period of observation at a hospital or medical facility. Even mild concussions may have more significant impacts on the developing brains of children, affecting many aspects of development, particularly in cases of repeated concussions.
People with moderate to severe brain injuries may require ongoing treatment, therapies, and home health care in order to maximize their recovery.