Common Injuries in Car Collisions: Concussions


One of the most common injuries that I see is the concussion. Now I know there is a lot of media attention on concussions due to the NFL player studies that have come to light in the last few years along with Hollywood memorializing the discoverer of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), Dr. Bennett Omalu, in the movie “Concussion” (which is a very good story about what happened when the connection was made between football and CTE, but the movie is very light on the actual medicine surrounding the condition). Why is this injury so common? It’s actually pretty simple if you think about the mechanics of an automobile collision. One of the most common types is the rear-end collision. This type of accident is often associated with the development of whiplash (from the head being forced back and then forward at a high rate of acceleration – I’ll go into this in more detail at a later time), however, what is poorly recognized is that when the impact occurs, your head is thrown backward into the headrest causing the concussion. Another collision type that I regularly see concussions with is the side impact which causes the occupant’s head to bounce off of the window (sometimes breaking it) or the door post. The severity of these types of injuries can depend upon multiple factors, however, the effects can last anywhere from moments where the person is just feeling out of sorts and then it clears, to the worst case scenario where the injury is permanent due to shearing of the axons which are what acts as connectors for the brain. So what are common symptoms you can look for if you suspect you have a concussion?

Do you have sensitivity to:
– Light (florescent lights are a very common source of headaches)
– Heat or cold
– Sound
– Busy environments (such as a movie or restaurant)
– black and white and/or complex floor patterns (sensation/visualization of the floor moving)

Do you have changes to:
– Vision (double vision, halos around street lights are examples)
– Taste
– Smell
– Memory (very common, especially short term memory)
– sleep patterns (can be sleeping extensively, or not being able to sleep with any regularity at all)
– Libido
– Concentration (again, very common)
– Comprehension
– speech difficulties (word finding is very common, on rare occasions I have also seen stuttering)

What can you look for in your everyday life activities:
– blackouts/seizures since the injury occurred
– forgetting things like you ATM pin or memorized phone numbers
– reading difficulties (have to read the same paragraph/sentence multiple times)
– writing problems
– typing problems
– lack of desire to do everyday activities
– lack of desire to do pleasurable activities
– Personality changes or irritability (extremely common which affects the family as a whole)
– emotional difficulty (it’s also common for people to develop depression)
– difficulty recognizing people
– suicidal thoughts/attempts (again, depression is common)
– headaches (very common and can range from dull ache to full migraine)
– Dizziness (I often see people suffer from vertigo after a collision)
– Amnesia (most commonly surrounding the event and periods afterward)
– Depression
– Anxiety (again, very common, it’s just not unusual for folks to devolop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
– Nausea
– bumping into objects
– Extreme Thirst
– Fatigue (you may start the day out feeling fine, but by noon you need a nap, by 5 you are dragging home and by 8 you’re either in or ready for bed)

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should be writing down what it is that you are feeling and you absolutely need to bring them to the attention of your doctor. Concussions are one of the most undiagnosed conditions so it’s up to you to make sure you are an informed patient.