What You Need to Know About Preventing Brain Injury in Children

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. An estimated 2.4 million children and adults in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. And almost half a million (473,947) emergency department visits for TBI are made annually from birth to 14 years of age. Michael Egnor, MD, and David Chesler, MD, PhD, two of only 200 actively practicing pediatric neurosurgeons in the country, share steps that parents can take to help prevent brain injury in their children.

What are the best ways to help prevent brain injury in children during winter months?

Wintery weather on Long Island often lasts well into April. And with snow and ice, comes an increased chance of crashes, falls and head injuries. In addition to requiring your child to wear a seat belt in the car (during all seasons), and knowing when and how to use a safety seat or booster seat for smaller children, there are several ways that parents can help protect children from brain injury during cold weather outdoor activities.

Before sledding, help your child find hidden snow-covered obstacles such as rocks or tree stumps that can cause the sled to crash or lose control. Require your child to wear a helmet at all times when playing hockey. Check the weather conditions and temperatures at outdoor ice rinks before skating. If you have a young skier or snowboarder, arrange for lessons to help your child learn how to ski to or snowboard safely. If your child goes snowmobiling, know who your child is riding with, their age, driving skills and safety habits.

How about during warmer months?

Did you know that bicycle accidents are most likely to occur within five blocks of home? Make sure your child wears a helmet every time he or she rides a bicycle, scooter or skateboard. We’re seeing the most head injuries right now in skateboarding, especially in young teens, who might think it’s just not cool to wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet is also necessary if your child goes horseback riding.

On playgrounds, avoid asphalt, concrete, grass and soil surfaces. Seek out surfaces with shredded mulch, pea gravel, crushed stone and other loose surfaces. With older children and teens, parents should be aware of the potential for diving accidents. In about 50 percent of cases of catastrophic injuries, alcohol or drugs is involved. Ensure that responsible adults supervise pool parties and other events where swimming and diving are involved.

Are sports injuries a concern?

The few serious injuries we treat from organized sports are usually accidents that probably could not have been prevented. We see mild concussions — mild because most organized sports require helmets. In soccer, however, injuries sharply increase at age 14 due to more aggressive play and the heavier weight of players. Children should use their body and extremities, not their head, to hit the ball.

What distinguishes Stony Brook in treating brain injuries?

Having the only Regional Trauma Center in Suffolk County — which means we offer the highest level of care to trauma patients — allows us to deal with serious injury immediately. This is key when minutes count. The full extent of the injuries may not appear immediately, so it’s important for a patient to be at a place like Stony Brook University Hospital where a neurosurgeon can be available quickly, with an operating room that is fully equipped to handle complex and severe injuries. Our team has six board-certified neurosurgeons, each of whom is at the top of his field. Our clinical staff consists of nurse practitioners, who have undergone a higher level of training, and many other specially trained medical professionals. And as part of Stony Brook Children’s, we recognize that children’s needs are different and require treatments and physician expertise tailored to the child.

For information about brain injury prevention, call (631) 444-4000. For information about pediatric neurosurgery, visit stonybrookchildrens.org.


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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.