Traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically results from a harsh or violent blow to the head creating damage to brain cells or tissue. In mild cases, brain cells may only be affected temporarily, however in more severe cases traumatic brain injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding, and other physical damage to the brain. Severe cases of TBI can result in permanent brain damage, long-term health complications, and even death. Sometimes the effects of a TBI can be hard to detect initially but may appear more over time. Teens who play high-impact sports such as football or wrestling are at the highest risk for TBI and should take extra care to protect their heads against injury.
Signs and symptoms of TBI
It is important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of TBI so you are able to recognize it in others and receive proper medical treatment. If you suspect you or a loved one might have a brain injury, it is always best to play it safe and seek out medical help immediately.
Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Problems with speech
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Sensory problems (blurred vision, ringing in ears, change in ability to smell)
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Loss of consciousness or “dazed” state
- Mood changes/swings
- Symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping/changes in sleep patterns
Symptoms of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury
The symptoms of moderate to severe brain injury can include any of the symptoms listed above associated with a mild TBI, in addition to the following symptoms associated with more severe cases. If any of the symptoms are present in an individual after suffering a significant blow to the head, it is essential that you seek out a medical professional immediately. Untreated TBI’s can lead to serious long-term physical and mental health consequences.
- Loss of consciousness for several minutes or hours
- Persistent or worsening headache
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Dilation of one or both pupils
- Clear fluids draining from the ears/nose
- Inability to awaken from sleep
- Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
- Loss of coordination
- Profound confusion
- Agitation, combativeness, or other unusual behavior
- Slurred speech
- Coma and other disorders of consciousness
Personality changes after serious brain injury
Although a traumatic brain injury may not necessarily change your true personality, it can certainly cause or exacerbate certain emotional challenges which may make you not feel like yourself. In addition to mood changes, brain injury may cause problems with memory and energy levels, which can affect the way you would typically go about life. After suffering from a TBI, over 80 percent of patients report emotional changes which commonly include social anxiety, irritability, anger, depressions, feelings of overwhelm, general anxiety, mood swings, or emotional lability (teariness). In most cases, the emotional symptoms that occur as a result of some form of brain injury will go away if you get the proper treatment. However, brain injury can disrupt the connections between neurons and blood vessels in the brain. For the majority of patients, these neural pathways are restored to normal within a few weeks, however, for as much as 30 percent of patients who suffered a serious brain injury this disruption may not be restored and can result in long-lasting symptoms.
Overstimulation and brain injury
Neurovascular coupling refers to the connection between our brain cells and blood vessels. In a healthy brain, this system helps to deliver fresh blood to the part of the brain that is being used at the time, improving efficiency. However, when neurovascular coping is not functioning at its normal capacity in some brain areas (such as in the event of a brain injury) other areas of the brain are required to work faster. This is a great example of how our brains are able to adapt to their circumstances. While this process is quite incredible, the brain’s inability to stabilize itself via neurovascular coupling can lead to overstimulation and hypersensitivity. This happens because when one part of our brain is not functioning properly, other areas in the brain must ‘pick up the slack’ which may overwork and overwhelm those areas. This explains why many patients who have recently suffered from some form of brain injury begin to become easily overwhelmed even by just a little bit of stimulation. This creates sensory overload and can lead to problems with attention span and concentration. Sensory overload after a brain injury may interfere with your everyday life, potentially leading to anxiety, irritability, and social withdrawal. Common stimuli that may trigger sensory overload include background noise, itchy clothing, bright lights, sudden movements and more. If the brain injury is treated properly, sensory overload is typically only a temporary problem. However, if you are struggling to get your life back to normal after a brain injury it may be best to consult with a doctor or professional about ways you can learn to manage the emotional and physical changes experienced with a brain injury.
Coping mechanisms for sensory overload post brain injury
Each and every person may be affected by the results of a brain injury differently, however, it is quite common to see patients develop sensory overload following a traumatic brain injury. If this is the case for you it may be helpful to use some general coping strategies to help you manage and avoid sensory overload. The following are some ways that may help to control overstimulation:
- Limit exposure to sensory overload. It may sound obvious, but if you are able to identify what sensory outputs overwhelm you the most you can make an effort to actively avoid these specific sensory outputs. For example, it may be helpful to shop in smaller stores or at times that are generally less busy.
- Rest, plan, and prepare ahead. Getting healthy amounts of sleep helps improve brain function. If you are about to go to a potentially taxing event, try to allow yourself time for a nap or time to unwind ahead of time. Additionally, try to prepare yourself for situations that may be stressful. This could be planning to only stay for a short amount of time or finding a quiet and comfortable spot to take a break at.
- Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. These substances can make sensory overload problems worse. Avoid these substances as much as possible and try to incorporate a healthy diet and lifestyle which helps to improve and protect brain health.
- Gradually increase stimuli exposure. If you know you typically get easily overwhelmed or affected by certain stimuli, do not try to get adjusted to it all at once. Increase your exposure to these particular stimuli in small doses, being sure to know and honor your limits.
- Experiment with activities that involve your senses. In order to overcome hypersensitivity, it is helpful to start engaging your senses. Play around with activities or modalities that involve your senses and find ways to work around activities you struggle with. For example, it may be helpful to bring earphones or noise-canceling headphones to crowded or loud spaces if you are sensitive to loud noises.
New Focus Academy can help
New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center with academic support designed for adolescent boys ages 12-18 who struggle with neurodevelopmental disorders, traumatic brain injuries, and emotional issues. We believe in using positive reinforcement to increase self-esteem and independence. Our program teaches methods to improve students’ functional living skills including self-care, homework, chores, and leisure planning. At New Focus Academy, we work to empower our students by teaching and practicing healthy coping skills, to improve social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
If your teen is struggling with identity issues after suffering from a traumatic brain injury, New Focus Academy may be able to help. For more information, please call (435) 740-8599.