As my family prepares to hit the slopes this ski season, one of the foremost safety issues on my mind is proper head protection.
My kids were chuckling recently as I rooted through garage boxes fishing out ski helmets and helping them try them on for a fit check. Ill admit, Im something of a safety geek, but when it comes to prevention of head injuries, there are some things we should all practice.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injury accounts for a significant percentage of sports-and-recreation- related injury.
The majority of such injuries happen to children younger than 18. Moreover in the last decade, traumatic brain injury-related emergency room visits have increased 57 percent.
While many factors may account for this apparent increase in head injuries, it is clear that children are at substantial risk from a common and preventable health condition.
Winter sports often involve speed and ice two factors associated with trauma. Head injuries may result from skiing, sledding, tubing, skating, snowboarding or hockey.
The most important safety measure to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury is use of a protective helmet. Helmets worn should be approved for the activity and properly fitted.
The helmet should be well-maintained, consistently worn during the sport or recreational activity and properly worn. It is wise to ensure a good fit each season to account for a childs growth. Chin straps should always remain fastened during the activity and should promote a snug fit.
Even helmet use does not provide absolute protection from head injury. Further preventive measures need to be taken including enforcement of a no-head-hit policy in competitive activities and the practice of safe recreational and sports-related techniques and behaviors to minimize the risk of injury.
During activities such as skiing or snowboarding, it is important to stay in control and keep an eye out for others to avoid collision. Keeping a safe distance from others on the slopes, as well as from obstacles such as trees, especially in narrow conditions, will enhance safety.
Traumatic brain injury is more commonly known as concussion. Because many recreational winter activities involve the risk of concussion, the CDC recommends that parents and coaches become familiar with a simple four-step action plan to follow if a head injury occurs.
After a bump or blow to the head, the child should stop the sport or activity. Next, after the head injury, the child should undergo evaluation by a trained health-care professional.
The third step for coaches is to inform the parent or child care-giver that a head injury has occurred so that the child may be properly monitored. Lastly, the child should not resume the sport or activity until he is symptom-free and cleared by the health professional.
Taking simple preventive measures for head trauma and appropriate precautions when it occurs will minimize the risk of adverse consequences from this common form of injury.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.