For many people, their first response after a car crash is to physically check themselves and other people for signs of injuries. They then relay their findings to whoever answers the phone when they call for police assistance or emergency services.
Ideally, those who have been involved in a crash would always be able to spot the signs of a serious injury so that they are inspired to seek immediate medical attention. However, a surprising number of people overlook injuries when a crash first occurs and then require medical care hours or days later. Why do people so often fail to notice the warning signs of a potentially serious injury after a collision?
Their physical response to the crash
The body’s stress response to extreme fear and physical trauma can keep people from identifying symptoms of an injury. During a crash, the brain floods the body with chemicals intended to help someone either fight off a predator or flee a dangerous situation. Those chemicals not only diminish cognitive ability to some degree, but they also cover up pain symptoms. People may not realize the extent of their injuries until hours later when the chemical response to the collision wears off, resulting in a surge of pain.
The possibility of stable injuries
Certain traumatic injuries might seem like they would be obvious after a wreck. People expect that they won’t be able to use a limb with a broken bone or move their bodies at all when they have a spinal cord injury. However, both damage to the spinal cord and bone fractures can remain stable after the initial trauma. People may be able to continue moving until overexertion or some kind of secondary trauma worsens their injury. At that point, they may suddenly no longer be able to pick anything up with the broken arm or may seemingly spontaneously develop paralysis when a previously incomplete spinal cord injury worsens.
The delayed onset of symptoms
Certain kinds of internal injuries don’t have major symptoms right away. Bleeding inside the body is a perfect example. Those with abdominal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma or seat belts may not realize there’s anything wrong until they develop bruising, tenderness or dizziness because of blood loss. Internal bleeding within the skull could cause a worsening traumatic brain injury. Although someone may not notice anything other than a headache at first, the slow progression of the injury might lead to worse symptoms and completely new symptoms days after the crash.
Those involved in severe collisions often benefit from receiving medical attention even if they don’t see immediate warning signs of major injuries. Understanding how people overlook crash injuries may help people better handle the consequences of a recent collision.