A heads-up on helmet safety

Riding a bicycle can be a fun and healthy way to enjoy summer, but for many, the trip can end in the emergency room. Each year in the United States, about 800 bicyclists are killed and another 500,000 are transported to hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly half of these injuries occur in children and teens, with a third of those cases involving head injuries.

“A bike helmet is the best line of defense against a severe head injury,” said Rebecca Melvin, TraumaOne education coordinator. “When it’s worn on your head correctly, it can help save your life.”

UF Health TraumaOne hosts several bike rodeos annually as part of its Trauma Prevention Program. The hourlong event provides hands-on instruction on bike safety basics by allowing children to ride through an obstacle course. Every child is also fitted with a helmet.

“Before you get on a bike, you need to make sure the chain is intact, the brakes work and the tires are in good condition to ensure it is suitable to ride,” Melvin said.

Bike riders 16 and under are also required to wear a helmet in Florida. Melvin says the best way to ensure your children adhere to this is by wearing one, too. “Children learn best by example,” she said. “If they see you in a helmet, they are more likely to wear theirs.”

Phyllis Hendry, MD, is the pediatric medical director of UF Health TraumaOne. She says helmets are as vital in bicycle riding as they are in sports.

“Wearing a helmet is similar to wearing a seat belt,” Hendry said. “It doesn’t mean you won’t get into an accident or have a head injury, but it definitely lowers the severity of the injury.”

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, occurs when there is a disruption or change in the normal brain function that can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. The four common causes of TBIs are falls, motor vehicle or traffic accidents, collisions of any kind and assaults.

“Symptoms can range from headache, vomiting and fatigue, to being unresponsive or having seizures,” Hendry said. “Symptoms can last hours, days or, in severe cases, be permanent. The effects of a TBI or concussion can include impairment to thinking, memory, movement, vision, hearing or emotions, such as personality changes and depression. Fortunately, most patients with TBIs fully recover over a period of days to weeks; however, severe cases not only affect the child, but also have lasting effects on families and siblings.”

Helmets protect the brain by absorbing most of the impact during a collision or fall. They come in several sizes and must be replaced as the rider grows to ensure proper fit. In addition, helmets should have the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sticker to ensure it meets proper safety standards. Any helmet worn during an accident should be replaced, even if there are no visible signs of damage.

“The integrity of a helmet is no longer there once a child falls with it on,” Melvin said. “It may look OK, but you need to get a new one because it probably can’t withstand another fall.”

TraumaOne typically gives away 500 to 800 helmets every year. To learn more or to schedule a bike rodeo for your community or event, contact the Trauma Prevention Program at Trauma1@jax.ufl.edu or 904-244-3400.