Head injuries can happen almost anywhere, whether you’re playing sports with your friends or doing construction work. Sometimes, no damage is done; you can ‘shake it off’ and continue with your day. Other times, your injury can be strong enough to cause a concussion. Learn what a concussion is, how to identify one, and how to treat a concussion.
A concussion is a type of head injury which jostles the brain around rapidly, damaging or stretching cells and causing changes in the way the brain’s chemistry works. Not all head injuries cause concussions.
Concussions can be caused by a variety of reasons, including falls, bumps, jolts, blows, and accidents. Athletes in high impact sports are especially susceptible to concussions.
A single concussion is rarely life threatening, but the condition can be serious. Multiple concussions are more likely to lead to permanent brain damage and changes in the way your brain works.
Symptoms of a Concussion
- There are many signs and symptoms of a concussion, although these may be subtle and not immediately apparent. You may experience one or several of these:
- Appearing dazed or stunned
- Concentration problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Slurred speech
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty retaining new information
- Slow to respond to questions
- Nausea or vomiting
While being “knocked out” is typically associated with concussions, unconsciousness is not necessary for a concussion to occur. That said, even brief unconsciousness is cause enough for the patient to visit the emergency room.
Some symptoms last hours while others can last weeks or months. It’s also possible for some symptoms to appear hours or days after the injury occurs.
Many mild concussions go undiagnosed and resolve on their own. However, it is recommended that you visit your doctor if you suspect you have a concussion.
When to Seek Emergency Care
While concussions are rarely life threatening, it’s still important to seek emergency care if you experience any ‘danger symptoms’. It is possible in some cases for a hematoma – a collection of blood that forms on the brain after injury – to squeeze the brain against the skull.
- Dizziness that does not go away
- Dilated pupils or pupils of uneven sizes
- Symptoms worsen over time instead of improving
- Slurred speech
- Drowsiness or inability to wake up
- Unusual behavior, restlessness, or agitation
- Loss of consciousness (even brief)
- Repeated vomiting
- Headache that does not go away
If you are an athlete, it is not recommended to return to active play until you have been evaluated and cleared by a health professional.
Multiple concussions are more likely to cause long term damage. Severe damage can lead to hospitalization and cause long term problems with memory, coordination, emotions, balance, retention of information, and more.
What to Expect During Treatment and Recovery
Most people recover quickly from a concussion. Rest is the most important thing you can do to speed along your recovery.
- Get plenty of sleep!
- If you are an athlete, avoid participating in your sport until after your doctor gives you clearance. It’s better to miss a couple of games than miss an entire season.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, as this can slow your recovery time or cause further damage.
- Avoid activities requiring heavy concentration (video games, prolonged computer use, etc,.)
- Return to your normal activities slowly, and stop and rest if your symptoms worsen.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Head injuries can occur just about anywhere. However, some sports and certain types of work can increase the risk factors for some people.
- Athletes in high-impact sports (hockey, football, rugby, etc,.)
- Soldiers who are in active combat
- Young children and the elderly (both have a higher risk of falling)
- People who have had concussions in the past are more likely to have a concussion in the future
- Being involved in an accident – whether in a vehicle, on a bike, or as a pedestrian
You can’t always anticipate when a head injury will occur, but in many cases you can take preventative steps.
- Wear appropriate head protection gear while cycling or participating in high-impact sports
- Buckle your seatbelt while driving
- Make your house as safe as you can, removing tripping hazards from the floor and blocking off stairways if you have young children
- Exercise regularly to improve your balance and keep your leg muscles strong