Traumatic Brain Injury Prevention, Children Ages Birth to 19 Years

In New York State (NYS), 20 percent of children ages 19 years and younger hospitalized because of an unintentional injury sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This is almost 3,000 TBI-related hospitalizations each year in this age group.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing traumatic brain injuries.

What is a TBI?

A TBI is a specific type of damage to the brain that disturbs the function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. A TBI can occur when the head:

  • is violently shaken by external force (e.g., severe whiplash, shaken baby syndrome)
  • hits a stationary object (e.g., falls, hits a windshield in a car crash)
  • is hit (e.g., by impact from a ball)
  • is penetrated (e.g., gunshot wound)

The severity of a TBI may range from "mild" (e.g., a short change in mental status or consciousness) to "severe" (e.g., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury).

Is a concussion a type of TBI?

Yes. A concussion is a type of brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that changes the way the brain normally works. They can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.

How many children become injured with a TBI?

  • Motor vehicle traffic-related injuries are often the most severe type of injury.
    • Over 40 percent of children hospitalized due to a traffic-related injury incur a TBI. This includes motor vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
  • Falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations due to TBI among children ages birth to 14 years.
    • Among children ages 15 to 19 years, falls are the second leading cause of hospitalization due to TBI among females, and the third leading cause among males.
    • Falls from one level to another, falls from stairs or steps, and falls from beds are common types of falls that result in a TBI.
  • Between 2005 and 2007, twenty percent of children who are hospitalized for sports-related injuries sustain a traumatic brain injury. Injuries due to recreational activities often also result in TBI.
    • Each year in NYS, over 6,000 children ages 19 and under are treated at a hospital for injuries sustained while using wheeled recreational equipment. Twenty percent of the children who are hospitalized due to these injuries sustain a TBI.
    • Additionally, almost 3,000 children aged 19 and under are treated each year at a hospital for injuries sustained while either skiing or snowboarding. Over 15 percent of children who are hospitalized and over 10 percent of those seen as outpatients at hospital emergency departments for skiing and snowboarding sustain a TBI.

What are the signs and symptoms of a TBI?

The signs and symptoms of a TBI can be either subtle or obvious depending on the severity of the injury. Some common signs and symptoms of a TBI include:

  • Headaches or neck pain that do not go away
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Slowness in thinking, speaking, acting, or reading
  • Getting lost or easily confused
  • Feeling tired all of the time, having no energy or motivation
  • Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or having a hard time sleeping)
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or loss of balance
  • Urge to vomit (nausea)
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Ringing in the ears

Children with a brain injury can have the same signs and symptoms as adults, but it is often harder for them to let others know how they feel. Call your child's doctor if they have had a blow to the head and you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Tiredness or listlessness
  • Irritability or crankiness (will not stop crying or cannot be consoled)
  • Changes in eating (will not eat or nurse)
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in the way the child plays
  • Changes in performance at school
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys or activities
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance or unsteady walking
  • Vomiting

What should I do if I think my child has a TBI?

Seek medical attention right away. A health care provider will be able to decide how serious their injury is. If your child was playing a sport while his or her head was injured, do not let your child return to play until a health care professional says it is safe. Athletes who return to play too soon are at a greater risk for having a second TBI.

What are the long-term consequences of a TBI?

TBI can cause a wide range of functional changes affecting thinking, sensation, language, or emotions. TBI can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age. Repeated mild TBIs taking place over months or years can result in lasting physical and mental changes. Repeated mild TBIs occurring within a short period of time, such as hours, days, or even weeks, can be fatal.

How can I reduce the risk of my child having a TBI?

Make sure your child learns and practices safety rules, especially during activities where your child's head can be injured, such as:

Where can I find more information about TBI prevention?