Blast Exposure: Brain Injury Not the Only Injury
John L. Mustain, M.S.S.W.
According to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 2014 report, Long Term Effects of Blast Exposure, the United States has deployed around 2.2 million military personnel, suffered 6,755 fatalities, and cared for 51,250 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, the data on the number of wounded does not include unreported injuries. Researchers with the IOM are quick to point out that Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) “have unforeseen consequences for military personnel that are not yet fully understood.” Furthermore, the IOM research indicates about 80% of all injuries are the result of blast exposure to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s).
The report posits five major categories of injuries caused by IED blasts: “Primary blast injury is caused by the blast wave itself, secondary injury is caused by fragments of debris propelled by the explosion, tertiary injury is due to the acceleration of the body or part of the body by the blast wave or blast wind, quaternary injuries include all other injuries directly caused by a blast but not classified by another mechanism (for example, burns, toxic-substance exposures, and psychological trauma), and quandary injuries are illnesses or diseases that result from chemical, biologic, or radiologic substances released by a bomb.”
Perhaps the best known of all blast injuries are Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). TBI and PTSD have a proven, causal relationship to persistent headache, permanent neurologic disability, cognitive dysfunction, unprovoked seizures, and Post Traumatic Epilepsy. However, TBI and PTSD are not the only blast exposure injuries.
The IOM research indicates that IED’s cause significant injury and often, prolonged issues with the Lungs, Liver, Heart, Spleen, Kidney, and Eyes. “The acute physical and psychological human health outcomes in those who survive blast explosions can be devastating. The long-term consequences are less clear.”
Veterans who have been exposed to blasts should become aware of the many different ways IED blasts could affect the entire body, not just the brain. Like the commercial for the old game, Operation, says, “the head bone is connected to the neck bone….
The IOM study sited throughout this brief article can be found at (http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2014/Gulf-War-and-Health-Volume-9-Long-Term-Effects-of-Blast-Exposures.aspx). It is 192 pages long, but well worth the read.
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