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Why should police officers worry about traumatic brain injuries?

Police officers have a hazardous job and therefore should be aware of the variety of injuries they could experience. One of the most serious and at times hardest to detect is a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

A TBI is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body, regardless of whether or not an object penetrates the skill. A mild TBI could cause temporary problems while a more serious TBI could have serious long-term effects or even cause death.

Here are five things police officers should know about on-the-job TBIs and why they should be taken seriously.

1. There is no one type of TBI

While many people think of concussions when they think of TBIs, which are also dangerous, blast exposure can be just as dangerous and not as well known. Explosive forced entry or flashbang devices can cause a TBI by sending shockwaves that increase pressure through the brain, compromising blood vessels and causing cell damage and brain inflammation.

2. Blast exposure TBI symptoms take longer

Some of the most common symptoms of a TBI are:

  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Fatugue or drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Speech issues
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Disorientation
  • Blurred vision
  • Ear ringing
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

While the symptoms of a non-blast TBI may present within days, blast-related TBIs can often take weeks or months to appear. While fatigue or sleep problems may seem like routine effects of the job, they could mean something more serious.

3. Low-level exposure is still hazardous

While low-level blast exposure on its own is considered “safe,” chronic exposure to low-level blasts, such as during training exercises or multiple blast events in one shift, can cause cognitive impairment.

A two-week study of training exercises showed that breachers experienced a “significant decline in reaction time and cognitive performance.” The study determined that even the current guidelines for minimum safe distances could be unsafe.

4. TBIs make other injuries worse

Regardless of whether the injury was blast-related or not, all TBIs get worse the longer they go untreated. Police officers may be putting themselves at risk of injuring themselves further if they are cognitively impaired or have poor motor functions. 

5. TBIs can cause disability

Repeat brain injuries can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive disease that occurs years after an injury and its recovery. CTE can sometimes cause early-onset dementia, early-onset Alzheimer’s or other long-term neurological conditions that leave an officer disabled.

Knowing how TBIs work for police officers can allow employees to recognize the signs quickly, get treatment and go back to serving the community quickly and for the long term.