- Neurologists diagnose and treat brain and spinal cord injuries that may occur as a result of a car accident.
- Because nerve damage isn’t always visible to the naked eye, a neurological exam is essential after a crash.
- While it can be challenging to obtain compensation for nerve damage, an experienced attorney can help you receive a full and fair settlement in your accident claim.
What Does a Neurologist Do and Focus On?
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treating injuries or other conditions related to the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. This means they are often called upon to treat victims following vehicular accidents, sports injuries, or other cases where a blow to the head or spine causes neurological damage.
Most hospitals have neurologists available for emergency treatment. However, patients often see neurologists for follow-up care in off-site clinics, as well.
How a Neurologist Can Help a Car Accident Victim
Because car accidents can be forceful and violent events, victims are often tossed around in the cabin of the car or thrown out of the vehicle, impacting the ground or other stationary objects. This sort of impact usually causes neurological damage to the brain and spinal cord.
Fortunately, most hospitals have access to specialized tools, such as MRI and CT scans, which neurologists need to diagnose neurological damage.
How Can a Car Accident Damage the Nerves?
Symptoms of a neurological injury are not always evident immediately following an accident. A few factors that can mask neurological symptoms include the severity of the injury and whether the victim is conscious and able to interact with doctors. Neurological injuries can also be more difficult to diagnose in people who have a high tolerance to pain.
Car crash victims don’t always recognize they’re hurt immediately after an accident. Their bodies turn on the “fight or flight” hormones, which triggers an adrenaline rush that can make victims unaware that they have a neurological injury. If the victim is in shock after the accident, they may not understand the extent of their injuries until later, from a few hours to a few weeks after the accident.
The delayed onset of symptoms can complicate treatment because victims may not recognize their symptoms and, therefore, don’t know to inform their doctor of the connection. This can also make it challenging to include the neurological damage in the insurance claim against the at-fault driver. Accident victims often settle their claims before such damage and the prognosis are fully understood. And naturally, insurance companies are reluctant to re-open a settled claim.
Common Car Accident Nerve Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injury
The most common injury related to car accidents is traumatic brain injury, or TBI. These brain injuries can impact how the brain functions and are among the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.
A TBI is usually the result of a blow, jolt, or violent shaking of the head or due to a foreign object penetrating the skull and brain tissue. These injuries are most often identified by a neurologist, who will also help create a treatment plan.
Mild-to-moderate brain injuries usually have a short-term effect on the way your brain functions, whereas more severe TBIs can be life-changing or even fatal.
Common symptoms of a mild-to-moderate TBI include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty with balance or dizziness
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Sensitivity to sound or light
- Blurred vision, ringing in the ears or an unusual taste in the mouth
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory loss or difficulty
- Anxiety or depression
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia
Symptoms of more serious TBIs can also include the following symptoms:
- Persistent or worsening headache
- Loss of consciousness, from minutes to hours
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Drainage of fluid from ears or nose
- Dilated pupils
- Extreme drowsiness or inability to wake fully
- Weakness or numbness in the fingers or toes
- Pronounced confusion, agitation, or combativeness
- Slurring of speech
Nerve root impingement, commonly called a pinched nerve, occurs when nerve roots are compressed or damaged because of outside trauma. Pinched nerves usually happen in the lumbar region (the lower back) or neck. These injuries can cause extreme pain, sensitivity, numbness, and weakness. Typically, an emergency room neurologist can diagnose this injury after a car accident.
The human spine is made up of individual bones, or vertebrae. Between these bones are rubbery cushions called discs that act as shock absorbers. Discs can become herniated or ruptured as the result of a blow to the back due to a traumatic event like a car crash. When they herniate, the discs may bulge out from between the vertebrae and press on the surrounding nerves causing significant pain.
Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)
The spinal cord and brain stem contain the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS). This part of your nervous system controls your vital bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, temperature, digestion, and sensation. The ANS automatically regulates these functions to keep you alive. Damage to the ANS could be life-threatening.
Depending on the degree of dysfunction, your neurologist will look for symptoms, including the following:
- Dizziness and fainting
- Profuse sweating
- Digestive difficulties, such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating
- Sexual issues
- Blurred vision
- Muscle tremors or weakness
Some cases of ANS are reversible. Unfortunately, others are not only permanent but also progressive. If you develop symptoms of ANS following a car crash, see a neurologist immediately to discuss ways you might improve your condition and manage your symptoms.
Ataxia is a degenerative disease in which the symptoms closely resemble those of being drunk or drugged. While ataxia can be hereditary, it can also be acquired through head trauma that damages the spinal cord or brain.
If you develop ataxia after a car crash, your doctor might call it “acute cerebellar ataxia.” Some early signs of ataxia include:
- Involuntary eye movements
- Speech pattern changes, including slurring of speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Struggling to perform everyday tasks, like eating and writing
- Unsteadiness on your feet
- Moderate to complete loss of muscle control
General Nerve Damage
Neurologists find that some symptoms are common to all head and nerve damage, including the following:
- Excessive pain or headaches
- Muscle weakness or numbness
- Unresponsive muscles
- Dryness in the mouth or eyes
- Incontinence, bladder or bowel problems
- Excessive sweating or not sweating at all
- Faintness or dizziness
- General fatigue or weakness
- Seizures, convulsions, or involuntary twitching or tics
Ideally, accident victims should seek medical help, including a neurological exam, immediately following a car accident, even if they don’t think they are seriously injured.
The many possible severe nerve or spinal injuries mentioned here require the help of a neurologist, especially because symptoms are not always immediately apparent.
How Neurologists Commonly Treat Nerve Injuries
Once nerve damage has been diagnosed, recommended care might include surgery or medication therapy. Your neurologist may also prescribe physical or occupational therapy as well as other rehabilitation approaches to deal with these conditions. Depending upon the severity of the injury, these treatments may be necessary for long-term recovery.
Other Medical Professionals Who Can Help Repair Nerve Damage
Because so many neurological injuries require pain management or rehabilitation, your neurologist may also recommend seeing other professionals as part of longer-term care. Depending on the injuries and prognosis, these practitioners may include orthopedists, physical therapists, or chiropractors.
There may also be cost benefits of seeing someone other than a certified neurologist for long-term care, as they tend to be less expensive.
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Ongoing Effects of Nerve Damage from Car Accidents
Neurologic and spinal injuries can have long-term and even permanent impacts on the victim.
Lasting and debilitating issues, like TBI, can mean paralysis, memory loss, headaches, seizures, dizziness, and balance problems. Additionally, they may involve the inability to carry out basic daily duties, like eating, showering, dressing, and other activities. Some victims can also have trouble continuing hobbies and other quality-of-life needs. In circumstances where these injuries are present, the help of a neurological specialist is critical.
Compensation for Nerve Damage
Medical care for neurological injuries can be expensive and long-lasting.
While the cost for treatment can be included in insurance claims for damages, knowing how to value the care, treatment, as well as future quality of life changes can be extremely difficult. Insurance lawyers who represent the at-fault party in such accidents are well-versed in how to avoid paying the price.
If you hope to receive full and fair compensation for car accident-related injuries and damages, it is wise to retain an attorney who is experienced in such matters. A knowledgeable attorney knows how to work with medical professionals, like neurologists, and can avoid the tricks used by insurance companies to avoid paying. Therefore, lawyers are well-equipped and capable of negotiating a reasonable settlement for injured victims.