Whiplash occurs when the head whips side to side or back and forth as a result of sudden force. The consequences of whiplash vary, but they typically entail stretched, torn or otherwise damaged muscles, ligaments, bones or nerves in the neck. In most people, whiplash causes pain immediately after the accident that caused it.
According to Healthgrades, auto accidents are the most common cause of whiplash. Any person who rides in a car is at risk of sustaining this painful injury, including children. If an infant or toddler sustains whiplash, parents should treat it as a medical emergency and seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of whiplash in infants and toddlers
In adults, the symptoms of whiplash typically include headaches, blurry vision, pain and stiffness, numbness, ringing in the ears and loss of range of motion in the neck. However, because infants and toddlers usually cannot communicate much beyond crying, parents should be on the lookout for other tell-tale symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme fussiness or irritability
- Bulge on the top of the head, where the “soft spot” should be
- Different pupil sizes
- Disinterest in eating or an inability to suck
- Inability to wake up or excessive drowsiness
These symptoms are very similar to those of shaken baby syndrome and parents should take them very seriously.
Caring for a child with whiplash
According to Kaiser Permanente, follow-up care is a crucial component of a child’s treatment plan following whiplash. Following the initial appointment in which a doctor diagnoses whiplash, parents should attend all follow-up appointments, administer medications as prescribed and be on the lookout for worsening symptoms. If a pediatrician recommends a neck collar, the parents should ensure the child wears it as directed for the time the doctor recommends.