car accident trauma

A car accident that causes serious injury is a traumatic experience. After certain physical injuries, a person in a crash may go into shock. Physical, traumatic shock is a life-threatening medical condition requiring emergency treatment.

A car accident victim in shock may have a range of symptoms including clammy skin, a pale or ashen complexion, a rapid pulse, enlarged pupils, dizziness and nausea. The person experiencing shock needs to be transported to a hospital for treatment.

Knowing the symptoms of shock after a car accident could save a life, including your own.

What Causes Traumatic Shock?

Traumatic shock occurs when a person’s internal organs do not get adequate blood and oxygen. Without oxygen, organs begin to shut down. If shock is not treated, the individual may suffer permanent organ damage or even death.

A person may go into shock as a result of traumatic injuries in a crash or blood loss. The impact of certain physical injuries, such as crushing injuries that damaged portions of the circulatory system, may cause shock. But the physical traumatic shock is usually the result of excessive blood loss or severe burns. Heatstroke, an allergic reaction, severe infection and poisoning also may cause a person to go into shock.

If you or your loved one were diagnosed as having gone into shock after a car accident, it was most likely referred to as hypovolemic shock.

Hypovolemic shock is the term for blood and fluid loss that causes a drop in blood pressure severe enough to make it impossible for the heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood to your body. Hypovolemic shock is the most common type of shock. It may be caused by bleeding from an open wound, internal bleeding, or severe burns, which deplete bodily fluids. Serious dehydration also can cause this type of shock.

Symptoms and Treatment of Physical Shock

Traumatic shock has many symptoms. A person who has gone into shock may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid, weak, or absent pulse
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lackluster eyes
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Decrease in urine
  • Thirst and dry mouth
  • Low blood sugar
  • Loss of consciousness.

First responders will check a shock victim’s heartbeat, pulse and blood pressure. To get blood circulating through the individual’s body as quickly as possible, emergency responders may administer fluids and blood products intravenously, as well as medication and other supportive care.

Once the patient is stabilized, doctors can treat the injury that led to the state of shock.

If you see an injured person who may be going into shock, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Then, the Mayo Clinic says to take the following steps:

  • Lay the person down and elevate their legs and feet slightly, unless this could cause pain or further injury
  • Keep the person still and don’t move him or her unless necessary
  • Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing, moaning or moving
  • Loosen tight clothing and, if needed, cover the person with a blanket to prevent chills
  • Don’t let the person eat or drink anything
  • If you suspect that the person is having an allergic reaction, and you have access to an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen), use it according to its instructions.
  • If the person is bleeding badly, use a towel or sheet to hold pressure over the bleeding area
  • If the person vomits or begins bleeding from the mouth, turn him or her onto a side to prevent choking, unless you suspect a spinal injury. Do not move a spinal injury victim.

Emotional / Psychological Shock and Post-traumatic Stress

You may witness someone else’s injury or death in a car crash and go into psychological shock, which is also potentially a life-altering condition.

The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR) refers to emotional trauma (or post-traumatic stress) as the emotional shock after a life-threatening, violent event. This psychological trauma occurs when our bodies perceive a life-threatening danger we cannot escape. The effects may be immediate or take time to surface and may remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Psychological shock after a car accident may be a reaction to your own injury or injury to a loved one, particularly a child or spouse who you were unable to protect. Even a bystander who witnessed a particularly catastrophic car accident may be traumatized by what he or she saw.

The NCMHR says a person may have been emotionally traumatized if they exhibit:

  • Repetitive and intrusive worrying thoughts or memories related to the event
  • Chronic fear
  • Staring off into space
  • Frozen expression or numbness
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Extreme defensiveness and rigid thinking
  • Irritability
  • Explosive overreactions
  • Sexual preoccupation
  • Continuing discomfort and pain after physical healing
  • Returning to traumatizing situations.

If you are dealing with someone who has just been traumatized, first see to any bodily injury or physical medical needs (e.g., call 911, dress a wound, etc.). Then:

  • Help them to a safe place
  • Acknowledge that something terrible has happened
  • Help them to stay dry, warm, and still
  • Keep in mind that trembling or being emotional is part of healing, and better than becoming numb to what has happened
  • If the person wants to talk, listen without interrupting or changing the subject

Trauma Recovery Tips After an Auto Accident

  1. Move around stay active. Take part in activities that don’t bother any injuries you sustained during the accident. Engaging your body helps focus your thoughts and be mindful of the present.
  2. Connect with others. Isolation will only prolong your suffering. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your experience and how you’re coping. You don’t have to talk about your traumatic experience either, especially if doing so makes you feel worse.
  3. Ground your nervous system. To feel anxious or agitated is common but you can still calm yourself. Try breathing exercises, specific smells or sights, or petting an animal can help. Acknowledge your feelings and accept them rather than avoid them.
  4. Take care of yourself. You’ve just been through a very scarring experience. It’s okay to give yourself time to cope. Reclaim it by getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, eating a well-balanced diet, and engaging in yoga or other fun hobbies.
  5. Seek professional therapy for trauma. Everyone heals at their own pace, but if your symptoms aren’t letting up, it may be time to talk to a trauma expert.

Contact a South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer

Shock is a common medical condition that many crash victims experience. After getting the appropriate emergency assistance and medical care needed for shock after a car accident in South Carolina, contact a car accident attorney to discuss your legal options if someone else caused your injuries. You may be entitled to claim compensation for your medical expenses and other losses, including your pain and suffering. Our compassionate personal injury attorneys understand you have been through a difficult ordeal and we want to help.

Joye Law Firm has offices in Myrtle BeachColumbiaNorth Charleston and Clinton, and we serve clients throughout South Carolina.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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