Concussions are a type of head injury that affects the brain. They are most often short limited and do not cause any lasting effects. They are caused by blows to the head or violent shaking of the body. They are most common in people who play sports, but can happen in many different circumstances. Concussion symptoms include headaches, balance issues, memory loss and trouble concentrating. Even though a concussion injures the brain, it is usually mild and most experience a full recovery.
What Causes Concussion?
Luckily, the brain has a hard skull that protects it. Inside there is fluid that acts as a cushion. This usually protects the brain from hitting the sides of the skull and mild impact. If you do happen to hit your head very hard or you are shaken violently, your brain may shift inside the skull. This may cause mild to moderate injury to the brain.
Some of the different causes of concussion are sports (hockey, skiing, snowboarding, football, and soccer). You can also experience concussion symptoms after a motorcycle crash, car crash or bike accident. Children can get concussions from falls on the playground or from climbing and falling off of things. Blows to the head during a fight can also cause concussion injuries.
What Are Concussion Symptoms?
Concussion symptoms can come on quickly, but may take a few days, a few weeks or longer to subside. Older people and children experience symptoms for longer periods. One concussion increases the risk for a second concussion and the second recovery may take longer to heal.
- Trouble remember new things
- Foggy thinking
- Trouble with concentration
- Slow thinking
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Blurred vision
- Problems with balance
- Sensitive to noises and lights
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritable, anger
- Increased emotional responses
- Depression and sadness
- Excessive sleepiness
- Trouble falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
While some symptoms may come on quickly, there are other symptoms that may show up some time after the concussion occurs. Stress can bring on symptoms. Often people may not know they have a concussion or will not let anyone know about their symptoms. People suffering from a concussion may appear completely fine.
Note to Athletes: If you receive a blow to the head during a sport, it is important to stop any activity if you have any symptoms of concussion. Even a suspected concussion with no symptoms needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Children and teens need to be checked by a medical person that is trained to deal with concussions in younger people. It is highly recommended that anyone with concussion symptoms not play sports until healed.
Occasionally, a concussion can develop complications including:
- Seizure Disorder. There is a higher risk of developing epilepsy after a brain injury. This can happen up to five years after the concussion.
- Long-Term Brain Impairment. More than one concussion in a lifetime can cause progressive brain impairments that are permanent. These impairments can seriously impair the functional capabilities i.e. walking, speaking, etc.
- Second Concussion Syndrome. If a person gets a second impact prior the complete healing of a concussion, fatal brain swelling can develop. This can actually happen quite rapidly.
- Dizziness/Vertigo. The symptom of dizziness can last weeks to months after a concussion. Some describe it as “the room spinning.”
- Headaches. Headaches can continue after a concussion. These often continue for weeks to months after the initial impact.
- Post-Concussion Syndrome. The symptoms of concussion can come on after the impact i.e. dizzy spells, headaches and trouble thinking and last for weeks to months after the injury has healed.
When there is a concussion, the brain chemicals are altered and inflammation can result. The chemicals begin to stabilize after around a week. The concussion recovery period can go on a lot longer. In the case of people who play sports it is important not to play until all the symptoms are gone to prevent “second concussion syndrome.”
How to Diagnose a Concussion
A concussion is diagnosed based on symptoms, how the injury occurred and physical signs. If you have a head injury, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. If the person is unconscious, call for emergency medical help right away.
The doctor will ask how the injury happened. They will also ask if you are having any symptoms. If you don’t remember, take someone with you that was near you at the time of injury.
They will then do a full physical exam, checking your pupils and neurological signs to see if everything is normal. If you have signs of a concussion, the doctor can send you for a CT scan or MRI to check your brain for any injury or swelling. They can also order an EEG to check for seizures.
What to Do After a Concussion
For a mild to moderate concussion, the only treatment is rest. You will need to stay quiet, not play sports, work or drive until the doctor tells you it is okay. You will need to stay in a quiet area of the house, avoid television, stress, the computer and texting. Aside from rest, the doctor may recommend the following:
- Have someone wake you up often over the first 24 hours. A concussion can cause someone to go into a coma. While this is rare, you should have someone wake you up every few hours over the first 24 hours.
- Try working or going to school half days. You may need to work or go to school for half days until you recover. Take frequent breaks and ask for less work. You can always make-up school assignments when you are better. When you start to feel better, you can increase your time and workload.
- Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain reliever. For pain and swelling, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like Advil, Motrin, or Tylenol. Use caution with the anti-inflammatories as they can increase bleeding tendencies.
- Don’t play sports until the doctor says it is okay. There is a risk of getting a second concussion and more serious injuries if you hit your head again. While recovering, refrain from contact sports or things that might cause you to bump your head again. Multiple concussions can cause permanent brain damage or even death.
- Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol while you are recovering can make recovery time longer. Try to avoid alcohol if you have concussion symptoms.
If your concussion symptoms do not improve or get worse, your doctor may need to do surgery to help relieve the swelling in the brain. Most people heal just fine with rest, but a small percentage need further treatment to heal.