A concussion is a mild—and the most common—type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head and most do not involve a loss of consciousness. They can also result from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Concussions can range from mild to severe and can disrupt the normal working of the brain.
Although we typically associate concussions with athletes, sports are not the only cause. Other causes are falls, motor vehicle injuries, being struck by or against something and assaults. Wellstar’s neuroscience team is highly qualified and experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions. If you believe you or someone else may have experienced a concussion, make an appointment with your doctor to confirm the diagnosis, or to identify another reason for the symptoms.
While you cannot see a concussion, some of the signs may be apparent right away, while some do not appear immediately. An undiagnosed concussion can lead to problems with everyday activities. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to signs and symptoms including:
- Double or fuzzy vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Feeling tired or sluggish
- Feeling foggy or groggy
- Confusion or feeling “spacey”
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
Seek medical care immediately if you or someone else experience the following:
- Changes in alertness and consciousness
- Confusion that does not go away
- Slurred speech
- Muscle weakness on one or both sides
- Unusual eye movements
- Pupils of the eye of uneven size
- Problems with walking or balance
- Repeated vomiting
Certain factors can increase the chance of getting a concussion. Participating in contact sports like football, hockey or soccer, especially if there is a lack of protective gear and proper supervision
- Being involved in a motor vehicle collision
- Engaging in military combat
- Being a victim of physical abuse
- Having a previous concussion
- Falling. Falls around the home are the leading cause of head injuries among young children and older adults
It’s not possible to prevent all traumatic brain injuries. But taking certain steps can help reduce the chance of getting a concussion. Always use proper safety equipment (seat belts, helmets, hard hats, etc.) during activities that could result in a head injury. Keep your home safe by installing proper lighting and making sure walkways are clear and uncluttered.
- Protect babies and young children by blocking stairways and installing window guards. Don’t let children play sports that are not appropriate for their age
- Learn and follow bicycle safety recommendations
- Never drink and drive
- Never text or operate a handheld device while driving
If you are concerned about the possibility of a concussion make an appointment with your Wellstar physician or neurologist. Prompt and proper diagnosis can help reduce more serious complications in the future. The first step is a physical exam to assess the nervous symptom. Your doctor will look for any changes in pupil size, thinking ability, coordination and reflexes.
Tools and Tests
The physician may order various diagnostic tests including:
- EEG (brain wave test)
- CT of the head
- MRI of the brain
- Neuropsychological or neuro-cognitive tests to assess thinking and problem solving skills
Once diagnosed, a mild concussion may not require further medical treatment. Your doctor will discuss any limitations on activity. It’s important for friends and family to watch for signs of a more severe head injury. These indications can show up after leaving the doctor’s office or emergency room.
The doctor may recommend that you be hospitalized overnight for observation. Or you may be observed at home, which requires that someone check on you every few hours for at least 24 hours. If you or a loved one may have had a concussion you should:
- See your Wellstar physician
- Get plenty of rest
- Avoid activities that can lead to additional head injury
- Avoid activities that require complex thinking like preparing reports or doing homework
- Avoid bright lights and loud sounds that may overstimulate the brain
- Watch for physical changes or thinking problems
Ask your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, as these can increase the risk of bleeding. Also ask when you or a child can safely return to sports. Returning to vigorous activity too soon can contribute to a second concussion and the possibility of permanent brain injury.
Many people recover quickly and completely from a concussion with no lasting damage. But in some cases it may take days, weeks or months to get fully better.
During that time you or a child may have trouble concentrating and remembering things. You may feel grumpy, have headaches, dizziness, blurry vision and recurring nausea. Talk with your doctor about what you can expect in terms of recovery.