Brain injuries are a serious health condition that impact people of all ages. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that there are 1.5 million traumatic brain injuries each year. Whether caused by head trauma such as contact sports, workplace accidents, car crashes, loss of oxygen, or poisoning. Even if it “might be nothing,” you should always get potential brain injuries checked by a doctor immediately. When you suspect someone may have brain damage, look for the following warning signs. You might save someone’s life.
Loss of Consciousness
The most obvious warning sign of brain injury is passing out from head trauma, lack of oxygen, or stroke.
If someone loses consciousness from a blow to the head, it means their brain has been jolted inside of their skull enough to interrupt function (a concussion). A concussion, even if seemingly mild, means they need medical attention to be sure the damage is not severe. Athletes in particular who have suffered a concussion should be removed from the field immediately to avoid compounding the damage.
Brain injuries occurring from lack of oxygen (hypoxia or anoxia) can occur from choking, suffocation, drowning, cardiac arrest, or stroke. If the brain’s supply of oxygen is interrupted, act quickly. Brain cell damage from lack of oxygen is often irreversible and widespread. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can stall for time in the case of someone who is not breathing or whose heart has stopped, but getting emergency medical care immediately is critically important.
Victims of a brain injury often show symptoms of confusion, slow response time, and/or amnesia.
If you suspect someone may have a brain injury, watch for unusually disoriented or foggy behavior. An injured person may repeat themselves, say things that don’t make sense, take a long time to respond, be atypically forgetful or temporarily amnesiac, be unable to recall basic information such as their name, or have no memory of what has happened to them (retrograde amnesia).
Imbalance and Illness
Nausea and a lack of balance/coordination often occur when someone’s brain is injured. Depending on the parts of the brain affected, any number of other physical symptoms like weakness, dizziness, vomiting, blindness, paralysis, or worse could occur as well.
Eyes Unusually Dilated or Dilating Unevenly
This is why first responders often check a patient’s eyes with a flashlight. Uneven or abnormal pupil size means the brain is not adjusting them correctly. Uneven pupil dilation indicates shock or damage to the brain and requires immediate medical evaluation.
Change in Personality or Mood
Uncharacteristic anxiety, depression, mood swings, or unusual behavior or mindset are concerning symptoms for someone who has suffered a brain injury. Altered personality or mood may indicate more subtle or long-term brain damage that needs to be addressed, such as cumulative damage or an unnoticed buildup of blood in the brain (hematoma).
Note that symptoms of brain injury may not appear right away. If someone sustains a blow to the head or other damage to their neurons, it might take some time before the damage becomes apparent. One trait of brain injury is that sometimes the affected brain cells die or degrade over time after the trauma actually occurs.Keep monitoring for new symptoms or concerns even after the initial danger of a brain injury seems to have subsided. The brain is a complex organ and may take longer to recover than you might expect. It is especially important to protect a brain injury victim from new injuries while they are recovering.
Having a history of head trauma makes the risk for getting future brain injuries more serious. Multiple concussions or other head injuries are more devastating to the brain than a single injury; cumulative damage can compound the damage. If you know that someone has had brain injuries in the past, be extra vigilant about any new damage and seek medical evaluation immediately.