A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head, a fall, or any other injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull.
Symptoms of Concussion
Often, there are no visible signs of a brain injury. Symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe, and can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months.
Some people will have obvious immediate symptoms including:
Temporary loss of consciousness (passing out) – this does not always occur
Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event (no memory of injury)
Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
Confusion or feeling “foggy”
Dizziness or “seeing stars”
Ringing in the ears
Nausea or vomiting
Some symptoms of concussion may be delayed in onset by hours or days after injury, including:
Concentration and memory complaints
Irritability and other personality changes
Sensitivity to light and noise
Psychological adjustment problems and depression
Disorders of taste and smell
Symptoms that require immediate emergency medical attention (even if symptoms are delayed) include:
Headache that gets worse and does not go away
Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
Repeated vomiting or nausea
Excessive drowsiness or inability to be awakened
One pupil (black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other
Convulsions or seizures
Cannot recognize people or places
Increasing confusion, restlessness, agitation
Loss of consciousness (even if brief)
In rare cases, concussions cause more serious problems. Repeated or severe concussions may lead to long-lasting problems including:
Difficulty learning or speaking
Permanent brain damage (the chance of this is small)
Blood clot on the brain
What Causes a Concussion?
Common Causes of Concussion
Your brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by your skull. If your head or body is hit hard enough, your brain can crash into your skull and be injured. These include:
Athletic sports – Especially contact sports, most commonly including:
Car accidents – This can occur if the head hits the steering wheel or other object in the vehicle, or with sudden, forceful movement of the head back and forth (whiplash concussion).
Falls – Occurs if the head hits an object during a fall, or hits the ground at the end of a fall.
Fights – Hard hits directly to the head can create enough trauma to cause a concussion.
Treatment for Concussion
With rest, most people fully recover from a concussion. The time it takes to recover depends on the severity of the injury, the speed of diagnosis, early treatment, and the individual. In general, the following guidelines will assist patients in recovery.
No one should return to play or participate in any vigorous activity while signs or symptoms of a concussion are present. Experts recommend that an athlete with a suspected concussion not return to play until they have been medically evaluated and have followed the return to play protocol that is recommended by their sport. It is also recommended that no one with a concussion should return to play on the same day as the injury, only when cleared medically.
General Adult Population
The following are tips for healing after a concussion has occurred.
Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day
Avoid activities that are physically demanding or require a lot of mental concentration. They can make your symptoms worse and slow your recovery.
Mental capacity – these tips will help you avoid frustration
Write down the things that you may have trouble remembering
Limit yourself to one activity at a time, especially if you’re easily distracted
Consult with family members or close friends when making important decisions
Only take prescribed medications or those approved by your health care professional
Do not drink alcohol until cleared medically to do so. Alcohol and drugs can slow your recovery and increase risk of further injury
Return to normal activities – When you are recovered from your concussion and cleared by a medical professional, return to your normal activities gradually, not all at once.
Driving – includes riding your bike and operating heavy machinery. Check with your medical provider to determine when it is safe to do so, as concussions can slow reaction time.
Working – after medical clearance has been obtained, you may possibly need a modified schedule and job duties. Communicate your condition clearly with your employer.
Potential Complications from a Head Concussion Injury
After a concussion, the levels of certain brain chemicals are altered. It usually takes about a week for these levels to stabilize again. This timeline varies, and it is important to not return to normal activities if you’re still experiencing signs and symptoms.
If you already have a medical condition at the time of your concussion, it may take longer for you to recover from the concussion. These conditions include:
Anxiety and depression – this can make it harder to adjust to the symptoms of the concussion
Previous concussion – on rare occasions, receiving another concussion before the brain has healed can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death. This is especially true in children and teenagers.
After you have recovered from your concussion, you should protect yourself from having another one. People who have repeated concussions may have serious long-term problems. Potential complications include:
Epilepsy – the risk is doubled within the first five years after injury in people who have a concussion
Cumulative effects of multiple brain injuries – evidence exists indicating that people who have had multiple concussive brain injuries over the course of their lives may acquire lasting, and even progressive, cognitive impairment that limits functional ability.
Second impact syndrome – sometimes, experiencing a second concussion before the first concussion has resolved may result in rapid, and typically fatal, brain swelling.
It is common for individuals who have experienced a concussion to have some lingering symptoms that may be related to cervical (neck) joint or vestibular dysfunction. Having this evaluated by a spine specialist will assist in diagnosis, recovery, and resolution of these symptoms.
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