According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traumatic brain injuries are one of the leading causes of permanent disabilities or death in infants and children.
Brain damage can happen either from blunt force trauma to the infant’s head (less common, but possible with a forceps extraction injury), from a long labor where the brain is compressed in the birth canal for far too long, or, more likely, from a difficult labor that at one point results in the infant losing oxygen. If you feel your infant suffers from brain damage, it’s important to understand the symptoms, although some symptoms may not surface until several years after the brain injury.
What are the Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage?
Some of the first signs and symptoms of brain damage can be detected shortly after birth by looking at the infant’s appearance. Although not always present in all infants who suffer from brain damages, some of the common symptoms and signs shortly after birth include:
- Abnormally large forehead
- Abnormally-shaped spine
- Distorted facial features
- Unusually small heads (more prominent in smaller infants)
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulties in focusing the eyes
Infants with brain damage may also exhibit an abnormal temperament, with symptoms including:
- Troubles with sleeping while lying down
- Excessive crying
- Problems with feeding
- Excessively fussy for no apparent reason
Some symptoms of brain damage may not be evident until the child starts attempting to undergo developmental milestones. The symptoms of brain damage are calculated in a few different ways: cognitive, perceptual, physical, and behavioral or emotional.
Cognitive symptoms are usually identified as the child grows older and possibly misses normal developmental steps. The most common symptoms include difficulties with
- Attention and concentration
- Memory and processing information
- Processing language
- Controlling impulses
Sometimes brain damage isn’t obvious until children enter school and a learning disability is suspected and diagnosed, such as attention deficit hyper disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD). In other instances, brain damage can manifest itself in more obvious ways with learning disabilities such as Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism
Perceptual symptoms are sometimes more difficult to diagnose, but symptoms include:
- Spatial disorientation
- Changes in vision and/or hearing
- Heightened sensitivity to pain
As the infant grows older, additional physical symptoms may manifest. Some physical symptoms may be difficult to diagnose (such as headaches) whereas other symptoms may be more obvious. Some of the more obvious symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Sleeping disorders
- Light sensitivity
Other physical symptoms include missing developmental milestones such as:
- Pulling themselves up without assistance
- Hopping or skipping
- Walking up and down stairs without assistance
- Feeding themselves without assistance
- Tying shoes, drawing, and coloring without assistance
- Sitting up alone, without assistance
- Getting dressed without assistance
- Holding things without dropping them and with a firm grasp
How is Infant Brain Damage Diagnosed?
The majority of infant brain damage cases are diagnosed by observing the telltale symptoms along with either an MRI or a CT head scan. Both of these tests provide medical images of the brain and communicate to the doctor whether there is a brain hemorrhage or a skull fracture. In addition, an EEG may also be utilized, a test that calculates the electric pathways of the brain to make sure that the communications are normal and strong.
With children and babies under two years of age, assessing their mental is more difficult when compared to older children and adults. Therefore, a CT scan is only recommended if an assessment shows that they have less than a score of 15 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. The Glasgow Coma Scale is a neurological scale that helps to provide a reliable recording of a person’s conscious state. Infants are scored on a scale of 3 through 15. Children under two years of age that have a score of 15 may still be eligible for a CT scan based upon the physical findings of symptoms, the experience of the physician, parental consent, and/or if the symptoms are worsening. Most people with a score of 15 who still have a CT scan are usually less than three months of age.
What are the Treatments for Infant Brain Damage?
Depending on the results of the CT scan (if applicable) or MRI scan, treatment may consist of variety of things. A new method, therapeutic cooling, reduces body heat in infants in an attempt to stop disabilities that come along with brain damage, such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and epilepsy.
Other treatment options include:
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Acute treatment, which may include placing the infant on a mechanical ventilation system in order to reduce pressure on the brain
- Medications that helps attention, concentration, and aggressive behavior
- Adaptive devices used to promote independence in functional skills
- Rehabilitation services
What is the Prognosis for Infant Brain Damage?
The prognosis for brain damage depends on the severity of the damage. If your child has a severe brain injury that involves swelling, surgery, aforementioned may be required, but most infants and children successfully undergo surgery with only minor problems.
However, it’s important to note that even thought surgery will reduce swelling and help maintain blood and oxygen flow to the brain, your child may still have developmental delays and other disabilities indefinitely. In some instances, surgery may not help the issue.
If surgery doesn’t correct the problem, physicians may place an intracranial monitoring device on the skull, which monitors brain activity. Once the problems are determined, appropriate treatment usually follows. For example, if there is bleeding in the skull cavity, it may need to be drained. If there is still severe swelling accompanied by damaged brain tissue, physicians may need to surgically remove the damaged brain tissue in order to provide enough room for the healthy brain tissue.
If the brain damage is such that of an intellectual disability or a school-aged learning disability is the primary struggle for your child, there isn’t any cure, but your child can learn how to navigate the world with occupational therapy and possibly physical therapy.