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NEWS | March 15, 2018

Traumatic Brain Injury Recognition Critical to Treating Invisible Wounds

By Peter Holstein Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

Knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury is critical to successfully treat these invisible wounds.

A TBI is a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The most common type of TBI in the military is mild TBI, commonly called a concussion.

“Although TBI is considered the “signature injury” of modern warfare, the vast majority of TBIs are mild, and not combat related,” said Maj. (Dr.) Jeffrey McClean, TBI Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General. “Most TBI injuries occur as a result of more routine day-to-day activities, like sports injuries, falls, traffic accidents, or other day-to-day risks. It can happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime.”

It’s important that all Airmen learn to recognize the signs of a TBI. Common physical symptoms of mild TBI include: headache, trouble sleeping, problems with balance, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light, and ringing in the ears. You may also notice mental symptoms like slowed thinking, difficulty finding the right word, and lapses in concentration or memory. Mild TBI can also cause emotional responses, such as heightened anxiety, irritability, mood swings or depression.

“We want to make sure all service members are aware of the common symptoms and signs of a TBI, so they can recognize it in themselves, their fellow Airmen or their families,” said McClean. “If someone may have a TBI, seek evaluation and treatment immediately from a medical professional. Most people, if they get the right treatment quickly, will fully recover from a concussion without any residual problems, within a few weeks.”

That’s why early recognition is so important, McClean emphasized. The longer concussion symptoms persist without treatment, the longer it can take for the treatment to work. Behaving as if everything is normal and continuing everyday activities, especially strenuous ones, can also worsen concussion symptoms.

“Whether you’re in the medical field or not, whether you’re deployed or not, you can help Airmen suffering from TBI get the appropriate evaluation and care immediately,” said McClean. “That maximizes their chance of a full and speedy recovery.”

For more information on recognizing the signs and symptoms of a mild TBI, as well as steps you can take to recover, read a pamphlet from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at