Brain injury as a result of automobile accidents is quite common, affecting approximately 280,000 Americans every year. With a total of approximately 1.4 million traumatic brain injuries that take place each year, this makes automobile accidents the second most common cause of brain injury after falling. The injury can range from mild to severe and can present itself through a number of ways such as whiplash, blunt force trauma, or penetrating trauma when an object actually penetrates the head.
Whiplash, which results from the jerking of the head after a collision, is one of the most common forms of brain injury and can prove permanently debilitating. Because the brain is enclosed and suspended in the skull, when the automobile comes to a stop during an automobile accident, the brain does not. Instead, it continues to move forward at a high velocity, slamming into the side of the skull. Because of the vast network of nerves which are connected to the brain, whiplash frequently results in the stretching of these nerve fibers and, occasionally, in lesions in these fibers. This is referred to as Diffuse Axonal Injury or DIA, which often results in a coma. These same results can be seen in those individuals who have struck their head during automobile accidents as well. The brain is quite delicate and is easily damaged and whiplash as well as blunt force trauma will sometimes cause the brain to bleed and tear at the point where it collided with the skull.
Bleeding of the brain, or intracranial hematoma, is a very serious injury and needs to be addressed immediately or it can become life threatening. Edema, or swelling, can also occur in the brain leading to an increased pressure on the nerves and tissue. This can lead to a decrease in circulation and, like intracranial hematoma, must be treated in order to avoid serious permanent brain damage.
Frontal Lobe Damage
Typically, the area that is most damaged during an automobile accident is the lobes toward the front of the brain, namely the frontal and the temporal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for conscious thought, such as the ability to choose between possible actions and other higher mental functions. Damage to the frontal lobe can result in mood and personality changes and decrease one’s personal control. The temporal lobe is responsible for the individual’s ability to compute stimuli such as smell and sound and damage to this part of the brain could both affect the individual’s ability to recognize such stimuli as well as other aspects such as speech. The brain, upon colliding with the front of the skull, sometimes bounces back and collides in a similar fashion with the back of the brain affecting the occipital lobe which controls visual perception.
Common Side Effects
Regardless of the type of traumatic brain injury that was received, three of the most common side effects from such injury include loss of consciousness, concussion, and amnesia. Depending upon the extent of the sustained injury, loss of consciousness may range from a couple of seconds to days and/or weeks in a coma with the longer the coma indicating a greater extent of injury. Concussion, which can also vary in intensity, often presents itself through headaches and nausea with erratic eye movements, vomiting, and loss of consciousness indicating a more serious concussion. Amnesia, or memory loss, is also an often side effect of brain injury with the greater the amnesia again indicating a greater injury to the brain.
Precautions, such as the use of seat belts, child safety seats, and helmets when necessary, should be taken to avoid traumatic brain injury.