This is going to be a hard story to read, but don’t let that stop you. It’s difficult because it involves very young children who suffer head trauma because they are abused. Sometimes, it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s because a parent or guardian loses control and angrily shakes an infant or toddler until brain damage occurs. While you may never intentionally abuse your own child, you should know how to recognize the symptoms of an infant or toddler that has been shaken. That knowledge could save a child’s life or improve the quality of treatment they receive.
Half of children who experience a severe abusive head trauma before the age of 5 will die before they turn 21, according to a new study.
In addition, among those who survive severe injuries, quality of life will be cut in half, the study found.
What causes such terrible consequences? According to www.babycenter.com, when a caregiver shakes and injures a child, it's sometimes called shaken baby syndrome. Abusive head trauma (AHT) and shaken baby syndrome usually refer to the same thing.
When a child's head is shaken back and forth, his brain bumps against the skull, causing bruising, swelling, pressure, and bleeding in and around the brain. The impact often causes bleeding in the retina – the light-sensitive portion of the eye that transmits images to the brain.
A child with AHT may also have a damaged spinal cord or neck as well as bone fractures. The extent of the damage depends on how long and hard the child is shaken or how severe the blow to the head is. But in just seconds, a child can suffer severe, permanent damage or even death.
In the United States, "at least 4,500 children a year suffer preventable abusive head trauma," said lead researcher Ted Miller, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, in Calverton, Md.
Among children with any abusive head trauma, including minor cases, one in three "will not survive to adulthood, and even the survivors will lose significant quality of life," Miller said.
For the study, the researchers surveyed parents, caregivers or pediatricians of 170 youngsters who survived an abusive head trauma to determine the victims' quality of life. The head traumas all occurred before the children were 5 years old. But, most -- about eight in 10 -- experienced the head trauma before they were 1 year old.
The majority (71%) of the cases fell into the severe impact category. Moderate impact cases accounted for 13.5 percent and there were 16 percent that were listed as minor cases.
Injuries caused by shaking a baby or toddler can be shocking. Almost one-quarter of children required a feeding tube, and 57 percent were blind or legally blind. Among the severe cases, 86 percent of the children lost their sight or needed corrective eye surgery, the report indicated.
"This article is a devastating reminder of how serious shaken baby syndrome is and how fragile these little ones are," said Linda Spears, vice president of policy and programs at Child Welfare League of America. She said children under 5 are much more likely to die due to abuse and neglect for several reasons.
"One is fragility of their little bodies, and another is that they have less ability to protect themselves," she said. "They're also less visible in the community because they rely on the people who abuse them. They're not in school yet and not seen in the community as much as older children."
Frustration is often the cause for shaking a baby. Parents can feel overwhelmed when their infant or toddler doesn’t stop crying. Potty training time is another trigger for some parents or guardians the study notes.
Parents of small children need a support system to help them through the rough times. Without one, things can get out of hand quickly.
"Shaken baby is one of the more devastating things that happen when people don't have what they need in terms of knowledge, skills, emotional maturity, concrete services and emotional support." Spears said.
She explained that "people feel incredibly inadequate in those moments, and if you have little support and little mentoring, frustration levels can get pretty high pretty quickly because parents feel upset and angry and need to feel like they can manage the situation."
The most common signs of abusive head trauma in an infant or young child are:
• The child is not eating or is having difficulty feeding
• The child’s body is rigid; stiff, not flexible or feels firmly fixed.
• The child’s eyes are glassy looking. They show no expression.
• The child is unable to lift their head.
• The child’s eyes are unable to focus on an object.
• The child is lethargic.
• The child seems constantly irritated.
In a second study, researchers tested the accuracy of a new screening method to identify which children's injuries were most likely caused by abuse.
By assessing four specific types of injuries to almost 300 children under 3 years old, the researchers determined that the method was approximately 96 percent accurate at identifying cases that were definitely caused by abusive head trauma.
Spears said providing education and support to parents, especially younger parents, is effective at preventing abusive head trauma and other forms of abuse, but it is a matter of identifying those families and getting them the support they need.
What should you do if you suspect a baby has been shaken in this way? Miller said you should report it to law enforcement or child protective services. Parents of children who may have been shaken, he said, should take their children to the emergency room, where immediate treatment may improve their long-term outcomes.
Both studies have been published in the journal Pediatrics. The newest study is in the online November issue.
Sources: Tara Haelle, http://consumer.healthday.com/head-and-neck-information-17/head-injury-news-344/abusive-head-trauma-in-babies-toddlers-can-have-lifelong-impact-693746.html
Karen Miles, http://www.babycenter.com/0_abusive-head-trauma-shaken-baby-syndrome_1501729.bc