Michael Schumacher is in a coma following the head injury he sustained whilst skiing; however we were told that he was only unconscious for a few seconds, seemed ok when he came round and it wasn’t until later that he collapsed. How could this happen and what is the First Aid treatment following a head injury?

Schumacher had a traumatic brain injury following his head injury; an injury like this can occur as a result of a blow or jolt to the head and can result in permanent or temporary damage to the brain. It is the leading cause of disability and death in people under 45.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

An injury that occurs initially, at the moment of impact is known as the primary injury and this can either affect a small part or specific lobe of the brain or can damage the whole brain.
However, during the impact, the brain can smash against the inside of the skull, tearing nerve fibres and causing bruising and bleeding to the brain.

During impact to the head, the soft brain crashes back and forth against the inside of the hard skull causing bruising, bleeding, and shearing of the brain. – picture thanks to Mayfield Clinic

Compression or secondary brain injury

brain scan of trauma

It is possible that immediately after the accident someone could be confused; may be briefly unconscious (like Schumacher), have blurred vision or feel a bit sick. They may initially recover and appear fine and then swiftly deteriorate. The problem occurs as a result of delayed trauma or a secondary brain injury or compression and this can cause more damage than the primary injury.

Compression occurs as the brain swells. Swelling is a perfectly normal and usually helpful response to injury and occurs as extra oxygenated blood, fluid and nutrients are brought to the injured area. However the problem with swelling within the brain is that the skull forms a rigid box, resulting in increasing pressure on the brain which can constrict and damage other areas of the brain that were not damaged in the initial impact. This swelling can happen immediately and can keep occur up to 5 days after the injury, although usually occurs within 48 hours (or later if there is another head injury).

What are the symptoms?

Depending on the type and location of the injury, the person’s symptoms may include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss / amnesia
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Visual problems
  • Poor attention / concentration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dizziness / loss of balance
  • Irritability / emotional disturbances
  • Feelings of depression
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Every patient is unique and some injuries can involve more than one area or a partial section, making it difficult to predict which specific symptoms the patient will experience. – the above symptom section is from Mayfield Clinic’s website.

First Aid for a head injury:

  • Maintain both your safety and that of the casualty
  • Quickly assess if there are any immediate life threatening injuries – check for a response and see if they are breathing normally. (If unconscious and breathing carefully put into the recovery position, whilst doing your best to keep their spine in line – keep checking that they are breathing, if unconscious and not breathing start CPR)
  • Keep monitoring the casualty for at least the next 48 hours and ensure they are not left on their own for any prolonged length of time and let others know that they have had a head injury. Observe for any of the above symptoms and if concerned call an ambulance.
  • If someone suffering from compression is swiftly given medical treatment in hospital; the prognosis is far better. They may be treated with rest and observation, medication, or may require surgery to relieve the pressure on the brain.

We wish Michael Schumacher and his family all the very best for a full recovery and hope that the press will respect their privacy at this tragic time.

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit firstaidforlife.org.uk emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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