Diffuse axonal injuries (DAIs) are one of several types of closed head injuries that can occur during a car wreck. While these injuries can range in severity, even the mildest brain injury can have devastating effects on the injured person and the life they lived before the accident.

We know that in the aftermath of a DAI caused by a car crash, people have questions about treatment options and legal rights. I wrote this article to review the basics of diffuse axonal injuries, and hopefully provide some answers.

What is a DAI?

Brain neurons before brain injuryDiffuse axonal injury is the result of the brain’s axons being stretched and torn. Axons are microscopic nerve fibers located in the inner part of the brain, known as white matter, that connect nerve cells (neurons) located in the outer portion of the brain, known as gray matter. The axons act like telephone wires, delivering information between neurons that allows us to move, touch, think, and much more. When axons are sheared, their ability to deliver these messages is impaired.

DAIs fall under the classification of a diffuse brain injury which means that the damage affects multiple areas of the brain. Because of the extensive damage to their nervous system, patients with widespread injury are more likely to experience abnormal reflexes, inability to speak, loss of balance, etc., and are at a higher risk of prolonged unconsciousness than those with focal (centralized) brain injuries.

What causes diffuse axonal injuries?

DAIs are caused by the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain within the skull. Common causes include sports-related injuries, falls, and – most often – car accidents.

For example, let’s say you’re driving to work and come to a complete stop at a red light. The driver of the car behind you is texting and driving, doesn’t notice the red light or your stopped car, and rear-ends your vehicle without hitting his brakes. The impact causes your body to quickly shift forward and then backwards in your seat. Within your skull, your brain has done the same thing. The abrupt motion causes the white and gray matter to shift within your brain and the axons that connect them to tear and stretch.

What are the symptoms of a diffuse axonal injury?

The most common symptom of diffuse axonal injuries is loss of consciousness.  People may also experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Because this brain injury is often caused by serious accidents, DAIs can be accompanied by additional injuries to the eyes and ears. Therefore, people with DAIs may also experience light and audio sensitivity, difficulty with balance, and hearing loss. Though these symptoms are not directly tied to a DAI, they may be signs of a greater head injury. Symptoms can show up immediately or over weeks, months, and even years.

What are the treatment options for DAIs?

There are three stages of DAIs: severe, moderate, and mild brain injuries. Treatment options will depend on which level of diffuse axonal injury the person has endured. While there is no way to fix the microscopic shearing in a diffuse axonal injury, there are treatment options to treat the symptoms and keep the brain injury from getting worse.

Severe diffuse axonal injuries are brain injuries that lead to a prolonged loss of consciousness. In these situations, the sheared axons cause swelling in the brain and create pressure that can lead to additional brain damage. Therefore, it’s vital to reduce swelling immediately, which is typically done through medications. If the patient regains consciousness, they will enter a multidisciplinary rehabilitation plan that may include medications, psychological adjustments, counseling, and physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapies.

Moderate diffuse axonal injuries are usually indicated by a loss of consciousness for up to 24 hours. The likelihood for recovery is much greater for these patients, but they may still go through rehabilitation to regain abilities that they lost. Rehab may include physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapies.

Mild diffuse axonal injuries are the most common form of DAIs, but that does not mean the consequences are mild. Loss of consciousness for mild DAIs is usually less than 30 minutes. This injury is often invisible, and since we can’t rewire the brain, treatment for this injury is aimed at minimizing the symptoms. The injured person may be prescribed medicine to treat headaches and other physical symptoms, but they may also go through cognitive therapy to help improve cognition and processing.

What are your legal rights after sustaining a brain injury in a car wreck?

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a diffuse axonal injury after a car accident, first and foremost, you should seek medical attention. Although your symptoms may be mild at first, diffuse axonal injuries can worsen over time if not properly treated.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a DAI, it’s important to know about your legal options. Our firm is passionate about helping people with brain injuries obtain justice. Though we cannot undo your injury, we can make sure the right legal steps are taken to help you receive reimbursement for medical bills, lost earnings, and other legal damages, like mental anguish. Furthermore, if the person who caused the car wreck was driving under the influence or texting and driving, our lawyers can help you seek punitive damages as well, which are meant to punish the reckless driver and discourage negligent conduct in the future.

Navigating the Legal Aspects of Your DAI

We’ve seen how diffuse axonal injuries are devastating for the victim and for their friends and family as well. Though you may have a long, difficult path to recovery ahead, please know that you are not alone. Our firm would be honored to help you navigate the legal aspects of your brain injury. Call us today at (803) 790-2800 or you can use the live chat feature below to contact us now.

Kenneth Berger
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Columbia and Myrtle Beach car accident and personal injury lawyer dedicated to securing justice for clients.