The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 14, 2010

Soften the impact

Helmets join the list of must-have sports equipment

By Erin Thompson
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — The cold weather and snow are here, which means winter recreation enthusiasts should be armed with ways to protect themselves from traumatic head and brain injuries that are typical for the season.

According to National Ski Areas Association, 38 fatalities occurred out of the 59.8 million skier/snowboarder visits reported for the 2009-10 season. Only 19 of those involved were reported as wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.

When engaging in winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding or ice skating, the most effective preventative measure is head protection.

“The importance of helmet use during winter activities can’t be stressed enough,” said Dr. Shelly Timmons, a neurosurgeon with Geisinger Health System. “Too often do we see patients this time of year with severe injuries to the brain and skull that could have been avoided by simply wearing a helmet.”

Dr. Timmons also recommends that paths should be clear of trees, rocks or ramps when children are sledding, tobogganing or snow tubing, and that adult supervision is provided during these activities.

While most people will walk away with minor bruises and scrapes following a winter-related incident, any fall in which the head is involved can lead to serious complications such as a concussion or an epidural hemorrhage.

“The use of a helmet can lessen the impact of a fall, but any major strike to the head may still require immediate medical attention,” said Dr.

Timmons. “Sometimes a brain injury is obvious with symptoms such as disorientation or unconsciousness. Other times a brain injury may not present itself immediately or with obvious symptoms. That is why it is very important to seek medical treatment if symptoms develop afterward.” A concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury, typically results in an altered mental state such as confusion or amnesia, or neurological symptoms such as blurry or double vision, tingling, imbalance, and they may even cause a loss of consciousness. However, development of symptoms after a blow to the head, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, or irritability, may also signal a concussion.

“No matter how seemingly mild, always allow time for the brain to heal following a concussion,” said Dr. Timmons.

“Long-term damage can result from successive concussions.”

Epidural hemorrhage is an example of a more severe injury that may not be immediately obvious following a fall.

This life-threatening condition occurs when a blood clot forms on the tough covering surrounding the brain. The injured may appear lucid and unharmed at first until the presentation of symptoms such as a headache, nausea, or change in level of consciousness.

“This is the type of injury that clearly illustrates the lack of immediate symptoms does not mean a lack of serious internal damage,” Dr. Timmons added.

“There is no need to hibernate this winter. Embrace the season and all it has to offer, but just be aware of the potential dangers and the potential for injury,” said Dr. Timmons.

“Simple precautions such as helmet-use can keep you safe and enjoying the snow.”

— E-mail comments to ethompson@dailyitem.com