Hypoxic Brain Injuries: How They Impact Children

Infancy and childhood are critical times of mental development. Kids are constantly taking in information and learning new skills, and their brains are developing structures and pathways that will serve them for life. 

That’s why childhood brain injuries can be so harmful. Children who suffer injuries to parts of the brain that are still developing may never reach developmental milestones like talking and walking or face lifelong struggles with emotional regulation and fine motor control. 

Hypoxic brain injuries can be particularly dangerous. Most other forms of neural damage are localized to one region or can be mitigated through appropriate treatment, but hypoxia affects the entire organ and begins damaging neurons almost immediately. 

Hypoxia can be easily prevented in most cases, but this makes the injuries that occur much more tragic. Here’s what you should know about hypoxic brain injuries and what you can do if your child has suffered from one.

What Is a Hypoxic Brain Injury

“Hypoxia” is a medical term describing the state of an organ that is not receiving enough oxygen to meet its needs. The term “anoxia” is closely related and describes when an organ receives no oxygen at all. All organs require oxygen to function, and the brain most of all. Without enough oxygen, the it can’t effectively remove waste products and free radicals, which can cause neurons to break down.

This damage can occur in minutes when the brain is starved for oxygen. This is known as a hypoxic or anoxic brain injury depending on the harm’s severity. The damage occurs in every part of the organ that isn’t receiving oxygen, which may be a localized area in the case of strokes or may include the whole thing. 

The exact effects of a hypoxic brain injury can vary dramatically based on how long the oxygen starvation lasted, the patient’s age, and what treatment the patient received. It is often difficult to determine the severity of the injury immediately, particularly in children. Some kids can recover fully from head injuries that would have killed adults, while others may seem fine until they fail to reach developmental milestones appropriately.

Causes of Hypoxic Brain Injuries

Hypoxia can be caused by anything that prevents oxygen from making its way through the brain. In adults, one of the most common causes is strokes, where a clot blocks blood flow to a specific part of the organ. Similarly, anything that causes the heart to stop, such as heart attacks, can cause hypoxia by halting blood flow.

Children are not particularly vulnerable to strokes and heart attacks, though. They are far more likely to suffer from hypoxic brain damage due to suffocation. If a child can’t breathe effectively, they aren’t able to take in enough oxygen to fuel their brains, leading to injury. This is most often caused by accidents or negligent medical treatment, such as:

  • Choking on food or small objects
  • Drowning in pools or bathtubs
  • Smothering in too-soft bedding, blankets, or plush toys
  • Asphyxiation during labor and delivery (hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE))

Avoiding mental damage caused by choking, drowning, or smothering is simple for most parents. However, preventing birth injuries is the responsibility of the medical professionals on staff. If your healthcare team does not monitor your delivery carefully, an otherwise normal birth can cause your child lifelong harm.

Lifelong Impact of Childhood Brain Injuries

Brain injuries can lead to various symptoms depending on the part of the organ that’s hurt. However, hypoxic injuries affect the entire thing, leading to a wide range of symptoms. Signs of hypoxic ischemic brain damage in infants include:

  • Trouble focusing eyes
  • Stiff neck
  • Jerky motions
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Extremely fussy
  • Inability to control certain muscles

Even if these signs are not present, it is still possible your child suffered an HIE during birth. HIE is often identified when a child misses developmental milestones such as:

  • Cognitive: Inability to communicate, memory problems, poor attention and concentration, lack of impulse control
  • Perceptual: Heightened pain sensitivity, difficulty with vision and hearing, disorientation, vertigo
  • Physical: Lack of physical coordination, inability to crawl, walk, or run, trouble with fine motor control

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child after a difficult delivery, it may be a sign they suffered a hypoxic brain injury when they were born. 

Who Is Liable for Hypoxic Brain Damage?

Some cases of childhood brain injuries are simply tragic accidents. However, some are caused by negligent medical providers who should be held accountable for their actions. You may be able to demonstrate that these healthcare workers are liable for your child’s suffering by:

  • Collecting medical records: Facts about your child’s birth will be recorded in both their and your medical records. Gather these records as evidence regarding difficulties that occurred during labor and your baby’s blood oxygen levels and APGAR test results. 
  • Getting outside medical opinions: Take your child to an independent physician to examine them for signs of neural damage. If they determine your baby has suffered an HIE, you have a stronger case against your birth team.
  • Consulting with a skilled medical malpractice attorney: All birth injuries, HIE included, may be considered medical malpractice, depending on the facts of the case. Discussing your situation with an experienced malpractice attorney can help determine whether you have grounds for legal action. 

The Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, are available to help you pursue justice for your child’s injury. We have over 30 years of experience assisting families and victims of medical malpractice and birth injuries in Los Angeles. We are dedicated to helping our clients hold negligent medical professionals accountable for the harm they cause. Learn more about how we can help you and your baby by scheduling your consultation with our L.A. brain injury law firm today.

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