What is a concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by rapid, forceful movement of your brain against your skull. They are commonly associated with playing sports, but they can happen any time your head is exposed to rapid forces of acceleration and deceleration (speeding up and slowing down).
All concussions should be treated as a serious injury. The rapid movement of your brain against your skull that occurs during a concussion can cause damage that might not be apparent right away.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to lose consciousness to experience a concussion, though losing consciousness or being ‘knocked out’ is suggestive of a concussion.
- A concussion is a brain injury.
- All concussions are serious.
- Concussions can occur without loss of consciousness.
- Concussions can occur in any sport.
What are some of the symptoms of a concussion?
Some of the common symptoms of a concussion are:
- grogginess or loss of consciousness (even brief)
- appearance of being dazed or stunned
- clumsy movements
- slow speaking or slow answers to questions
- personality changes
Not all of these symptoms need to be present to suggest that you or somebody you know has had a concussion.
In addition, athletes participating in a sport are more like to experience the following after a concussion:
- headache or “pressure” in head
- nausea or vomiting
- double or blurry vision
- sensitivity to light or noise
- feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy
Not all concussions are equal. While all concussions are a serious medical event and require the attention of a medical professional, some may represent a more severe brain injury.
Symptoms of a more severe brain injury include
- loss of consciousness
- severe headache
- persistent vomiting
- extreme fatigue
How are concussions diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you or, if you are incapacitated, somebody who was with you at the time you were injured what the circumstances were. After this consultation, your doctor will perform a neurological exam to test several areas of functioning:
- motor skills such as reflexes, coordination, and balance
- cognitive skills and memory
- touch / sensation
Your doctor may call for a computed tomography (CT) scan of your head if it is suspected that you have sustained a severe concussion, or if you exhibit some risk factors such as
- short-term memory problems
- worsening neurological symptoms
- involvement in a motor vehicle accident
- epileptic seizures
- advanced age
Not all concussions require diagnostic imaging, and your doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and determine the right course of diagnosis and treatment.
How are concussions treated?
Both physical and mental rest are needed to recover completely from a concussion. Strenuous physical activities should be discontinued and school work or other critical intellectual pursuits may need to be decreased until recovery is complete. Even activities like casual television viewing and reading should be avoided because they require you to concentrate and make your brain ‘work’ harder.
Headaches are common during the recovery phase of a concussion, and acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) is recommended for pain relief.
It is extremely important that you abstain from activities that place you at high risk of suffering another concussion while your injury heals. Experiencing another concussion before your previous concussion has healed can lead to a condition called second impact syndrome. This condition is marked by swelling of the brain and can be fatal.
I’m a coach. What should I do if I think one of my players has a concussion?
Concussions can happen in all sports, not just ‘contact’ sports. Taking quick action after a concussion can help prevent further injury to your player and decrease the chances of long-term problems. If you think one of your players has experienced a concussion:
- Remove the athlete from play.
- Inform the athlete’s parents.
- Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional.
- Do not allow the athlete to return to play until they have been cleared by a health care professional AND they no longer have concussion symptoms.
I’m a parent. What should I do if I think my child has a concussion?
A concussion is a serious injury and should be evaluated by a health care professional. If you think your child has a concussion:
- Seek medical attention.
- Keep your child out of play.
- Inform your child’s coach about your decision.
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