Does it surprise you to learn one of the primary causes of permanent brain injury is motor vehicle accidents? Actually, auto accidents account for 17.3% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the U.S., second only to falls, and lead the nation in TBI-related deaths. Those statistics may not be as shocking once you understand the frequency of auto accidents and the force exerted on the human body during a car crash.
What happens during a car accident?
Imagine you are a passenger in a vehicle traveling along at only 40 miles an hour on a back road when suddenly another vehicle pulls out from a side-street and the driver of your vehicle can't react quick enough to avoid the collision. During a accident such as this, the vehicle you are in dramatically loses forward momentum as it strikes the other vehicle. The front end of your vehicle crunches together, thrust forward by the weight and momentum of the rest of the vehicle. While the car may stop suddenly, your body and its internal organs are still moving forward at 40 miles an hour. Not only until your seat belt or another object catches you does your body lose momentum. The impact, if not deadly, can be severe to your skeletal structure and internal organs. Brain injuries can occur as a result of either extreme forward/backward movement as in whiplash or as a result of the head hitting the windshield, air bag, steering wheel, or any part of the car with great force.
After the crash.....
The greatest impact in a car accident is when your head hits the windshield. Your resulting injury could be closed head, meaning your skull is not fractured, or open head where the skull is penetrated. In addition to bruising or tearing brain tissue, bleeding and swelling are some of the greatest risks associated with a closed head injury after a car accident. If not relieved by surgery, brain swelling can cause serious and sometimes fatal brain injury. In an open head injury, glass from the broken windshield could pierce the skull and embed in your brain. Surgery may be required to repair the skull and remove glass fragments.
The most common type of closed head injury from a car accident is a concussion. This could cause a temporary loss of consciousness or a longer loss of consciousness as in a coma. In this type of injury you may incur physical, psychological, and/or cognitive impairment.
Physical symptoms may show up immediately or increase in the days and weeks following the car accident. These include headaches, motor and sensory problems, nausea, paralysis, and trouble with sleeping.
Although it’s not the primary cause of brain injury in car accidents, airbag deployment—as well as malfunctioning or not deploying—can cause head injuries. Airbags are designed to prevent serious injury, yet 284 deaths due to air bags were reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the period from 1990 to 2008. Injuries to children and especially infants are more common in this type of occurrence. Nevertheless, the risk for serious damage in a car accident decreases with the use of seat belts as well as newly reinforced windshields called HPR or high penetration resistant laminated windshields.