After the crash, your first thought was to check on your toddler in his car seat. He was upset, of course, but had no obvious injuries, so you breathed a sigh of relief. Even though you believe the only damage from the accident occurred to your car, it is still a good idea to take your child – and yourself – to see a doctor and make sure there are no hidden damages elsewhere.

You can sustain a brain trauma without a blow to the head, so do not assume the lack of a visible bruise or wound means no one suffered an injury.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

The Mayo Clinic explains that, usually, the cause of a traumatic brain injury is a powerful blow to the head, a forceful jolt that causes the brain to collide with the inside of the skull or an object that penetrates the skull and damages the brain tissue. Motor vehicle accidents are among the top causes of TBIs in children.

The result of a TBI is brain dysfunction. This could be mild and affect brain cells for a short time, or it could lead to serious bruising or tearing of the gray matter in the brain, torn blood vessels and other damage.

What symptoms indicate a TBI in a child?

If your toddler has quite a few words or knows some sign language, he may be able to tell you if his head hurts. Most toddlers are not likely to be able to directly communicate their feelings, and a TBI does not necessarily manifest as a headache, anyway.

Your child may feel anxious or listless, drowsy or uninterested in his usual activities. He could be experiencing sensory issues such as blurred vision or ringing in the ears. Watch for signs that these symptoms may be present. For example, you may notice him fussing or crying inconsolably, refusing to eat, vomiting or moving sluggishly or with a lack of his usual coordination. Seizures are a symptom of a serious brain injury.

When do symptoms manifest?

The scary thing about brain injuries is that something initially quite small, such as a torn capillary, could turn into a secondary brain injury later. That little leak could pool gradually under the skull and begin creating pressure that kills brain cells. Likewise, bruised brain tissue could swell and cause pressure. This pressure can cause serious problems even though the original injury caused very minimal damage.

When you tell the doctor about the car accident, he or she will likely do a thorough checkup and may recommend a follow-up visit. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully and stay vigilant for symptoms for at least two weeks after the accident.

It is a good idea to speak to an attorney as soon as possible after the crash and avoid accepting a quick settlement offer from the insurance company that may not cover all medical expenses.