Child Brain Injuries

Injuries to the head are a serious cause for concern when it comes to infants and young children. A head injury can happen in a number of different ways, but for infants, it is most commonly due to abuse and falls. As the result of a head injury, an infant can sustain more serious complications, including brain injury. In fact, for children who are one year old or older, it is one of the primary causes of death. Due to this potential risk, parents are often greatly concerned when a child suffers from any form of bump or hit to the head. Often, there is no need for alarm and there are no ill effects when a child hits their head. Some concern, however, is valid, and parents should never ignore a fall or other type of accident that involves the head. What is important is that parents educate themselves on what problems an injury can potentially cause and how they can recognize the signs that a problem exists.

When a child hits or otherwise injures their head, it is classified as a head injury. An injury to the head can be mild or severe in nature. This is not the same as a brain injury, however, nor does every injury to the head affect the brain. Head injuries include any form of injury that involves the head, such as bumps, cuts to the scalp, or fractures of the skull. When these injuries affect the brain, it becomes a brain injury. Injuries to the brain can cause hemorrhages or traumatic brain damage, including concussions and contusions. Traumatic brain damage ranges from mild to severe, with the latter potentially being fatal. The result of brain injuries can last for the length of a child's life or may be short-term. Complications are often associated with the part of the brain that was damaged. These complications include behavioral problems, speech complications, and vision, taste, and hearing problems. In some instances, muscles and the ability to move may be affected by injuries of the brain.

For parents and guardians of children, it is often difficult to immediately discern the severity of an injury to the head or determine if there is brain damage. The worse a child injures their head, the greater the risk of a brain injury. For this reason, parents must closely watch their children for the first 24 hours following any head-related accident. A child who is suffering from a mild head injury can be expected to display signs such as fatigue, headache, dizziness, and irritability. Some may also experience an alteration of normal sleeping patterns, light sensitivity, and nausea. Severe head injuries require immediate attention from a health care professional. If an infant loses consciousness within the first 24 hours of a head injury, it is a serious indication of trouble and they should be taken to the emergency room without delay. Other signs of a serious head and/or brain injury include profuse sweating, paling of the skin, vomiting repeatedly, extreme head pain, fluids that are bloody or clear running from the infant's nose or ears, constant crying that cannot be soothed, and uneven pupils. Naturally, parents should take the child directly and immediately to the ER if there is an open head wound, an object has penetrated the head, or if they appear to have slipped into a coma.

Abuse, such as Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), is also a common cause of brain injury. This type of injury can be inflicted by anyone who comes into contact with the infant, from a babysitter to a parent or other family member. It involves the repeated hard shaking of an infant. This type of abuse injures the brain by causing it to bounce against the inside of the skull due to the force of the shaking. The impact of this often results in swelling and/or bleeding of the brain, the tearing of blood vessels that lead to and surround the brain, and the destruction of the brain's tissue. Symptoms that a child is a victim of this form of abuse include convulsions, problems breathing, feeding difficulty, and a pale or blue-tinged complexion. This is a type of intentional brain injury that can kill an infant. Children who survive SBS typically suffer lifelong problems that include, but are not limited to, mental retardation and blindness due to retinal damage.

As a leading cause of the death or disability of infants, head and brain injuries must be taken seriously by anyone responsible for their care. Although some falls and injuries are to be expected, it is vital that adults are able to recognize the signs that an injury is serious in nature. The ability to recognize brain trauma is vital even if a parent or guardian is unaware of a head injury. This is important, as children who are left in the care of others may potentially become the victim of abuse that can result in traumatic and even life-threatening injuries to the brain.

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This resource page is provided by Dr. Bruce Fagel for your information. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.