What is a concussion?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It can
occur after an impact to the head or after a whiplash-type injury that causes
the head and brain to shake quickly back and forth. Concussions are usually not
life-threatening, but they can cause serious symptoms that require medical
treatment. A concussion is a traumatic injury that results in an altered mental
state that may include becoming unconscious.
Anyone can become injured during a fall, car accident, or
any other daily activity. If you participate in impact sports such as football
or boxing, you have an increased risk of getting a concussion.
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) estimate that in 2010 approximately 2.5 million people in the
United States visited the hospital with TBIs.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a concussion
of a concussion vary depending on both the severity of the injury and the
person injured. It’s not true that a loss of consciousness always occurs with a
concussion. Some people do experience a loss of consciousness, but others do
symptoms may begin immediately, or they may not develop for hours, days, weeks,
or even months following the injury. The signs of a concussion may include:
- brief loss of consciousness after the injury
- memory problems
- drowsiness or feeling sluggish
- double vision or blurred vision
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light or noise
- balance problems
- slowed reaction to stimuli
During the recovery period
after a concussion, you may experience the following symptoms:
- sensitivity to light or noise
- difficulty concentrating
- mild headaches
Emergency symptoms: when to see a doctor
See a doctor if you suspect that you or someone else has a
concussion. If a concussion occurs during sports practice or a game, tell the
athletic coach and go to a doctor. If you, or someone you know, experiences any
of the following severe symptoms after an injury, seek immediate emergency
medical treatment or call 911:
- an inability
to wake up (also called a coma)
of blood or clear fluid from the ears or nose
pupil size (one pupil is larger than the other)
Concussions may be
accompanied by injuries to the spine. If you suspect that the person has a neck
or back injury, avoid moving them and call an ambulance for help. If you absolutely
must move the person, do so very carefully. You should try to move the person’s neck and back as little as possible. This will avoid
causing further damage to the spine.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
If a doctor or emergency room visit is necessary,
your doctor will begin with questions
about how the injury happened and its symptoms. Your doctor might then perform
a physical examination to determine what symptoms there are.
In the case of serious
symptoms, your doctor may request a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerized
tomography (CT) scan of the brain to check for serious injuries. In the case of
seizures, your doctor may also perform an electroencephalogram (EEG) test,
which monitors brain waves.
How is a concussion treated?
Treatment for a concussion
depends on the severity of your symptoms. You might need surgery or other
medical procedures if you have bleeding in the brain, swelling of the brain, or
a serious injury to the brain. However, most concussions do not require surgery
or any major medical treatment.
During the first 24 hours
after the injury, your doctor may ask that someone wake you every two to three
hours. This ensures that you haven’t
gone into a coma and also allows someone to check for signs of severe confusion
or abnormal behavior.
If the concussion is
causing headaches, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers
such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Your doctor will also
probably ask you to get plenty of rest, avoid sports and other strenuous
activities, and avoid driving a vehicle or riding a bike for 24 hours or even few
months, depending on the severity of your injury. Alcohol might slow recovery,
so ask your doctor if you should avoid drinking it. If you should avoid
alcohol, ask your doctor for how long.
A warning regarding the long-term effects of multiple concussions
Anyone who has had a concussion should not return
to sports or strenuous activities without a doctor’s permission. Getting a second
concussion before the first concussion is healed can cause a condition known as
second impact syndrome (SIS), which can increase the chances of
severe brain swelling and may be fatal.
Remember, it’s important to take time to rest
after any concussion. This allows the brain to heal. Even once your doctor has
granted permission to return to sports or exercise, that return should be
How to prevent concussions
You can reduce your risk of
getting a concussion by wearing the correct helmet and other athletic safety
gear during sports activities. Always make sure the helmet and other gear fit
properly and are worn appropriately. Ask a coach or other sports professional
about safe playing techniques, and make sure to follow their advice. The CDC
provides an extensive overview of concussion
Long-term outlook after a concussion
Most people completely
recover from their concussions, but it may take months for the symptoms to
disappear. In rare instances, people experience emotional, mental or physical
changes that are more lasting. Repeat concussions should be avoided because
even though they are rarely fatal, they can increase the chances of getting
permanent brain damage.