Ice Bucket Brain Injury?

Anyone who’s been online recently has probably seen people being doused with ice water for a great cause.

The ALS Association has been conducting a fundraiser called the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research and treatment. It’s a fantastic cause and a fun way to raise money for an underfunded disease.

I’ve seen many brief Ice Bucket Challenge videos posted online, some of which have me very concerned. While many people are participating in the challenge in a safe way, others are creating situations where head injuries can occur. I’ve seen multiple clips of people standing on the ground while someone on a deck or other structure dumps water on them from above. This creates a situation where the container can slip or the person can accidentally drop the bucket, causing the container and all the contents to fall directly on the person below. Numerous clips show children and adults being hit directly on the head by falling buckets filled with water and ice. Some of the containers are large garbage cans! While the initial response may be to laugh at these “ice bucket challenge fails”, the reality is that serious brain injury can result.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 2.5 million adults and children in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, with another 795,000 experiencing an acquired brain injury from non-traumatic causes. There are currently more than 5.3 million adults and children in the United States who have lifelong disability resulting from traumatic brain injury. A traumatic brain injury can occur anytime normal brain function is disrupted by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating injury. This includes the blow that occurs when a bucket of ice water falls on someone’s head!

Brain injuries occur along a spectrum of severity from mild to severe, and can leave adults and children with varying degrees of disability for the rest of their lives. People commonly miss the signs of mild brain injury, and these injuries can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. In fact, many people mistakenly believe that if the person remained conscious they can’t have a brain injury. This is false, as brain injuries can occur regardless of whether the person remains conscious. Some people also believe that if they aren’t formally diagnosed with a concussion then there is nothing to worry about. This is also false, as any bump or insult to the head can cause short and long term injury to the brain. It’s very easy for the brain to be injured because while the brain is the consistency of Jell-O, it is housed inside a hard boney skull. When the head gets bumped or there is sudden impact the soft brain smashes into the skull and can cause injury. The size of the blow to the head does not necessarily correlate to the size of the brain injury. People can experience significant brain injury from relatively minor bumps to the head.

Signs and symptoms of brain injury include: headache, drowsiness, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, dizziness, slurred speech, blurred vision, confusion, loss of consciousness, nausea or vomiting. People experiencing these symptoms following any type of bump or insult to the head should seek medical attention right away. Children especially should be monitored carefully for symptoms of brain injury after falling, hitting their head, or experiencing physical injury.

It’s interesting to note that both ALS and brain injury are misunderstood and underfunded conditions. While raising money for ALS, some people are risking and/or experiencing brain injury. As with all activities, I encourage people to be careful and take precautions to avoid injuries involving the head and brain. By all means participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge! Just make sure to have someone pour water on you from a non-elevated surface, use a container that is not so heavy that it can be dropped easily, and use an amount of water that won’t cause a jolt to the head and body. Keep your brain safe from injury and you’ll be able to raise money for great causes for years to come!

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