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Headache

Headache

Tracy
Okay, now that we have all introduced ourselves let’s begin by talking about how to manage some of the effects of TBI. Michelle tell us a little bit more about how Tom is doing.

Michelle
Well, he is talking more, and beginning to recognize people. He waved at his doctor, and he seemed to remember his physical therapist that he had seen just only a few times before. Some people may think these are just little things, but after what we’ve been through, it’s definitely progress.

Julie
That’s great! And all of those small steps will add up. With Sam, we just didn’t know what to expect. We weren’t given a very positive prognosis, so when he said his first word, we were amazed. We know how significant those first steps are. That is great Michelle.

Tracy
Travis, how do you feel about the progress your dad is making?

Travis
I don’t know…It…it scares me. I mean sure he’s making this progress, he’s talking more and he recognizing a few more people…but to me he's still confused a lot. And he’s still in pain a lot of the time…I know that his head hurts and I just want the pain to stop…

Carl
Yeah. It’s tough to see someone you love in pain. When Sam was first waking up, his head hurt all the time. We just felt so helpless because we didn’t know what to do…

Tracy
Sure. Well as you all have experienced, a TBI can affect so many aspects of a person’s life. What we’re going to cover next are some of the things that you, as a caregiver, can do to help that loved one when it comes to specific symptoms. Now this information will be particularly helpful when your family member comes home from the hospital. Since Sam has recently come home, Carl and Julie, we’d appreciate your input on this, if you wouldn’t mind sharing some of the things that you’ve learned.

Julie
Sure.

Tracy
Now keep in mind that your family member is likely to experience some, but not all, of these effects. I mean many effects are common right after the injury; you may have already noticed them. And many are likely to improve over time. But though we know more now about TBI than ever before, no one can say with certainty just what effects each injured person will have.

So we do know that most people with TBI can and will make improvements. I mean of course, with the proper diagnosis, the treatment, the follow-up care... they’re so important, but so are the supportive family and the community.

Michelle
You said many effects are common. What kind of effects are you talking about, Tracy?

Tracy
Well, since we’ve been talking about headaches, let’s start there. Some people have headaches most of the time, others headaches just come and go. There’s fatigue, there’s stress... a history of migraines make those headaches worse. But now the doctor will of course will prescribe medications for your loved one and possibly some other options for later in the recovery.

Michelle
What other options are there?

Julie
Since Sam had so many severe headaches early on we tried several things. What worked for him were acupuncture and exercise.

Carl
Yeah, but we didn’t start out with those treatments. First, we tried medication. That didn’t completely get rid of them, so we talked to Sam’s doctor. He suggested stress management, like deep breathing and lying down in a dark and quiet place during a headache. So Sam tried that, along with the acupuncture and exercise.

Tracy
Well Carl and Julie just mentioned several strategies for headaches.  Depending on where your loved one is in the recovery process, those strategies can change. Another thing to consider is to give your family member some guidance in terms of behavior. For example, encourage him to avoid bright sunlight, wear dark sunglasses. Also, obviously avoiding alcohol, foods that trigger headaches like cold foods, some cheeses, chocolate... things like that.

When a headache does occur, keep track of it in your journal. Note the time of the day, the activity that he was doing, also the intensity of the pain. And if the headaches don’t improve or if they get worse, let a member of the health care team know right away.

Sensory Changes

The brain is the center for all five of our senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

When the brain is injured, each of the senses is at risk for change. There is often not much to be done about these changes in the first year after injury.

Doctors often use a “wait and see” approach with the hope that sensory changes will go away on their own.

For some sensory changes that don’t go away over time, surgery may help. For others, therapy and learning to live with the effect will be in order.

What you might see:

  • Vision changes, such as blurry vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light 
  • Hearing changes, including muffled hearing or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) in one or both ears
  • Changes in taste and smell. This could be a complete lack of taste and smell or an altered taste, such as a metallic flavor in the mouth

How you can help:

  • A neuro-ophthalmologist can evaluate visual changes. A neurologist can evaluate other sensory changes.
  • Reinforce wearing of an eye patch or special glasses if ordered for double vision.
  • Ask your service member/veteran to avoid alcohol. It may increase sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Seek professional advice about whether or not it is safe for your family member to drive if he or she is having a change in vision.
  • Have his or her hearing checked. Use hearing aids, if needed. 
  • Ask a dietitian about tips for eating if taste and smell are lost or altered.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in the house if his or her sense of smell has been lost.
  • Try to be patient. Sensory changes can improve over the first several months or years after TBI. Work with the health care team to track how the senses are working. Seek further evaluation and treatment options as needed.
Related Information:
Headaches
Other Physical Effects
Glossary
Frequently Asked Questions
"I so wish that at the beginning I had had someone like the people I’ve met here at Fisher House, who are already two years post-injury. I wish I would have had some- body like that come up to me and just put their arms around me and say, You know what? Any question you need to ask, just ask it." -  Meredith H.

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