Most of the news about traumatic brain injury focuses on professional athletes and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, but these people only make up a small fraction of the total brain injuries dealt with every year. Every day, children, sometimes as young as 8 or 9, receive brain injuries on playgrounds and grass fields.
Doctors like Valarie Wong, MD, pediatric and sports medicine specialist at Loma Linda University Medical Center, treat these patients, all while dealing with a relative lack of information compared to when treating many other conditions.
Over the past few years there has been a fairly large rise in brain injuries being reported at health care centers, but that is actually reassuring in many ways. It is assumed the surge in people coming to emergency rooms with head injury reflects a raise in awareness of severity and danger associated with TBI.
What is disconcerting to these doctors are the number of patients coming in with symptoms very similar to those reported by professional athletes that were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy after they die.
“We don’t know of absolute proof that this is what is happening to our youngsters who are getting concussions or brain injuries,” Wong told Coronado Patch reporter Gina Tenorio. “But the symptoms are there. They are the similar to the ones seen in National Football League players.”
Wong has witnessed children coming in dealing with headaches, dizziness, light and sound sensitivity, and “spaciness”, but what really scares her is the personality changes she has witnessed. “I have a couple patients of my own who are totally different people,” she said. “They are still the same person, but you can tell they are not as engaged. Sometimes they are not as social. They prefer to be by themselves, whereas before they were very bubbly. I’ve seen A students become C students.”
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can only be identified through dissection at the moment, which means that sadly it will be a while before we have enough data to be able to understand just how early CTE is affecting people.