After a serious car accident resulting in a head injury, you will likely be transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital emergency room for initial evaluation and treatment. At the ER, doctors will first focus on stabilizing your condition and addressing any life-threatening injuries before diagnosing and treating your head trauma. They will ask you questions to assess your level of consciousness and cognition, check your vital signs, and conduct a physical exam looking for signs of head injury like bruising, bleeding, or skull fractures.
CT scans and MRIs are often used to get a clear picture of any damage to the brain tissue or blood vessels. The results of these tests along with the doctors’ evaluations will determine next steps in a treatment plan, which could include hospital admission for observation, surgery to relieve pressure on the brain or stop bleeding, or transfer to a rehabilitation facility. A car accident lawyer can help explain your case. Your medical team’s top priorities are preventing long-term disability and maximizing your recovery and quality of life after a head injury. With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment and rehabilitation, many people are able to recover well after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash.
Emergency Room Evaluation and Diagnosis
Upon arriving at the emergency room, the patient will undergo a comprehensive evaluation to determine the severity of the head injury. The emergency room physicians and nurses will ask questions about the accident and symptoms to get a full understanding of the injury. They will check vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature for abnormalities.
A physical exam will be performed to look for signs of trauma to the head and neck. The physician will check for swelling, bleeding, or wounds on the scalp and may test cranial nerve function and reflexes. If a concussion is suspected, the physician will evaluate balance, coordination, and cognitive abilities. CT scans or MRIs are often ordered to check for bleeding in the brain or skull fractures.
•CT (computed tomography) scan: Uses X-rays to create detailed 3D images of the brain to check for bleeding or swelling.
•MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce images of the brain in multiple planes without radiation exposure. Best for detecting small bleeds or structural damage.
If test results are normal, the patient will be monitored in the emergency room for a minimum of 4 to 6 hours. Hospital admission for observation may be required for 24 to 48 hours depending on factors like repeated vomiting, slurred speech or confusion. Severe head injuries may require immediate transfer to a trauma center for neurosurgery to treat brain bleeds, skull fractures or swelling.
With prompt emergency care and proper diagnosis, most people recover fully from mild to moderate head injuries. However, continued monitoring for symptoms in the days and weeks following the accident is important to watch for potential complications. Seeking medical care right away for any concerning signs can help prevent permanent brain damage.
Imaging Scans to Detect the Severity of Head Trauma
To properly diagnose and treat a head injury from a car accident, the emergency room doctors will order imaging scans. These scans allow them to see inside the skull and brain to determine if there are any signs of trauma or damage.
Computed tomography (CT) scans are commonly used first. CT scans take multiple X-ray images from different angles and combine them to provide cross-sectional views of the brain. This allows the doctors to detect any bleeding, swelling, or skull fractures. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used, as it provides even more detailed images of the brain and surrounding tissues.
If the scans reveal any areas of bleeding or damage, the medical staff will closely monitor the patient to determine the best course of treatment. Minor injuries can often heal on their own with rest and over-the-counter medications. More severe trauma may require hospitalization, steroid medications to reduce inflammation, or even emergency surgery to stop bleeding or relieve pressure on the brain.
The results of these diagnostic imaging tests, combined with other evaluations like vision tests, balance/coordination checks, and memory assessments, will provide the doctors with information about the severity of damage to the brain and skull. Close observation and follow-up care for weeks or months after the accident may be needed to monitor recovery and check for any long-term effects or complications from the head trauma. With prompt and proper treatment, many patients are able to recover well after sustaining a head injury from a motor vehicle accident. However, some may be left with permanent disabilities or cognitive impairments, underscoring the importance of cautious driving and vehicle safety.
Observation and Monitoring
After a head injury from a car accident, the hospital will closely monitor the patient to properly assess the severity.
Hospital staff will observe the patient for signs of a more serious head trauma like loss of consciousness, confusion or memory loss, dilated pupils, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, or clear fluid draining from the nose or ears. They will ask the patient questions to determine their level of alertness and test basic cognitive abilities. The patient will be under constant supervision to watch for any concerning changes.
To determine if there is intracranial bleeding or structural damage, the hospital may conduct diagnostic testing like CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays of the head and neck. These imaging tests provide detailed views of the brain and surrounding tissues. The medical team will review results to identify the location and extent of any injuries. They may also perform other tests to check vision, hearing, balance, and nerve function.
Monitoring Vital Signs
The hospital staff will frequently check the patient’s vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen levels. Changes can indicate increased swelling or pressure in the brain. An abnormal rise in blood pressure, a drop in oxygen levels, or a slowing heart rate requires immediate medical intervention. The patient may be placed on supplemental oxygen or have an IV for hydration and medication administration.
Close monitoring and observation in the initial hours following a head injury from a car accident is critical. Doctors can quickly determine if emergency surgery or other lifesaving treatments are needed to prevent permanent damage or disability. Hospital staff are trained to detect even subtle changes that could indicate a patient’s condition is worsening so they can provide immediate and appropriate care.
Possible Surgery Depending on the Injury
If the doctors determine surgery is necessary to treat the head injury, the specific procedure will depend on the severity and location of the damage. Some possibilities include:
A craniotomy involves temporarily removing a portion of the skull to access the brain. The surgeon will evaluate the injury, stop any bleeding, and repair any tears or damage to blood vessels or nerves. They will then replace the portion of skull that was removed. This allows for direct access and repair of injuries that cannot be treated non-surgically.
In some cases, bleeding or swelling in the brain can cause a dangerous buildup of pressure. A ventriculostomy inserts a catheter into the ventricles of the brain to drain excess fluid and relieve pressure. This is often a lifesaving procedure done on an emergency basis.
Severe bruising (contusions) on the surface of the brain may need to be surgically removed. The contused tissue is excised, and in some cases, a graft may be placed over the area. This reduces pressure and risk of further bleeding or damage.
Additional surgeries to repair skull fractures, insert monitoring devices, or stabilize the neck may also be required, depending on the nature of the injuries. Surgery will be performed as quickly as possible once the patient is stabilized, to maximize the chances of a successful recovery. The medical team will carefully monitor the patient after surgery to watch for any complications and ensure the best possible outcome.
While no one ever wants to be in a serious car accident, receiving prompt emergency care and treatment for head injuries can mean the difference between life and death. Understanding the options available and procedures that may be necessary can help alleviate fear and anxiety, though the situation remains extremely traumatic and difficult. The most important thing is receiving competent medical care as quickly as possible.
Rehabilitation and Recovery
After receiving emergency treatment for a head injury from a car accident, the hospital will begin rehabilitation and recovery. This process aims to restore as much function as possible and facilitate your return home.
The rehabilitation team, including physicians, therapists, nurses, and social workers will evaluate your condition and needs. They will determine an individualized treatment plan to improve deficits in physical, cognitive, communication, and self-care abilities.
Therapies may include:
- Physical therapy to improve balance, coordination, strength, and mobility. Exercises and equipment like walkers or canes may be used.
- Occupational therapy to relearn daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Adaptive equipment and strategies will be employed to promote independence.
- Speech therapy to address language, speech, and swallowing difficulties. Communication devices can supplement speech.
- Neuropsychological testing and counseling to manage changes in memory, reasoning, and emotions. Strategies for coping with these challenges will be provided.
The rehabilitation team will continually evaluate your progress and make adjustments to your treatment plan and goals. They aim for you to achieve your maximum potential to live as independently as possible upon discharge from acute care.
Discharge planning will begin once you have medically stabilized and made significant progress in therapies. The team will determine appropriate next levels of care, such as inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, or outpatient services. They will also educate you and your family on how to manage your condition at home to ensure a safe discharge.
Ongoing follow-up with physicians and therapists, as well as support from loved ones, is key to continued healing and successful community reintegration following a head injury. With hard work and time, significant improvements can still be made in the weeks and months after an accident.
Fletcher Law Can Help With Your Car Accident Case
If you have suffered a head injury in a car accident, the hospital will take immediate action to properly assess the severity of your injury. Upon arriving at the emergency room, doctors will examine your head and neck to determine if there are any visible wounds or fractures. They will ask you questions to evaluate your alertness and cognitive abilities.
To gain a clearer understanding of any internal damage, physicians may order diagnostic imaging tests like CT scans, MRI scans or X-rays of your head and neck. These provide detailed images that can detect bleeding in the brain, blood clots, or skull fractures not seen during a visual exam. Doctors will then determine if any neurosurgery or other procedures are needed to prevent complications from a traumatic brain injury like hemorrhaging or excess cranial pressure.
For less severe head injuries, hospital staff will monitor you closely for signs your condition could be worsening, such as:
- Worsening or severe headache
- Repeated vomiting
- Slurred speech or difficulty staying awake
- Dilated pupils or vision problems
- Numbness or weakness in the limbs
They may admit you for overnight observation to ensure your safety before discharge. Upon release, you will receive instructions for proper rest and recovery at home. Follow-up appointments with specialists like neurologists should be scheduled to monitor your progress.
If you were the victim of a negligent driver, the team at Fletcher Law can help you pursue compensation to cover costs related to your medical treatment and recovery. Our personal injury attorneys have decades of experience obtaining fair settlements for clients in Florida who have suffered head traumas and other serious injuries in auto accidents. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.