A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain is shaken within the skull. This can be caused by a blow to the head, a fall, a car accident or any forceful impact. Concussions are common in contact sports such as football and boxing. A person who suffers a major concussion may lose consciousness, but that is not always the case.
While most concussions cause only temporary effects, they do make the brain more susceptible to injury from future traumatic events. Consequently, it is critical that a concussion is properly diagnosed and treated, and that the person has fully healed before returning to activities where a head injury may occur.
How to Tell if You Have a Concussion
It is best to get medical attention after any serious head trauma. If you choose not to visit your doctor after a head injury, look for concussion symptoms in the injured person. These symptoms include:
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Headache or feeling of pressure in the head
- Coordination or balance problems
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Memory and concentration issues
- Dazed appearance
- Slowed response to questions
- Mood/behavioral changes including depression
- Pupils that are dilated or of unequal size
- Inconsolable crying in young children
- Irritability or agitation
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep problems
In rare instances, a concussion may cause seizures. If any of these symptoms are present after a head trauma, it is important to get prompt medical attention.
Your doctor will assess your condition based on information including where you hit your head, whether you lost consciousness, how you felt after the incident and your results on certain neurologic tests. Information from people who witnessed the injury may also help with the diagnosis. In cases of a severe head trauma, other tests such as a computer tomography (CT) scan, X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be performed to check for issues like a skull fracture or spinal injury.
There was a time that the “treatment” for a concussion, especially in a sports setting, was to “shake it off” and get back into the game. However, that approach is very dangerous and can lead to further injury and brain damage.
Instead, following a concussion, patients are advised to:
- Avoid physically demanding activities, tasks that require a high degree of concentration and any activity that increases the risk of head trauma
- Get plenty of rest, including adequate sleep at night and rest breaks or naps during the day
- Talk with their employer or teacher about temporarily reducing their workload during recovery
- Limit the amount of time spent using electronic devices like computers, mobile phones, TVs and video games
Concussions typically resolve on their own, though some patients may experience dizziness and balance problems that linger after other symptoms have resolved. You should make your doctor aware of this if it happens to you.