What Is A Concussion?
A concussion is a head injury caused by moving forces such as a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that results in a variety of symptoms and temporary changes in mental status, coordination, and balance. While sport-related concussions are the most commonly talked about, concussions can happen from falls, car accidents, or other traumatic events.
After a concussion, the symptoms that occur differ from patient to patient. These include headaches, dizziness, vision problems, trouble concentrating, feeling slowed down, repeated vomiting, sleep problems, and even irritability and sadness. Symptoms may not even appear for days or weeks after the injury.
What Causes A Concussion?
Anyone is at risk for concussions. They occur frequently in sports (especially contact sports), but they can happen from falls, car accidents, and non-contact sports too. When a concussion occurs, there is an energy crisis in the brain. The impact of the brain against the skull can cause the brain to swell. It can even be life-threatening in rare cases.
How Can I Prevent Concussions?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer in concussion prevention. Some parents think that keeping their children out of contact sports will prevent concussion. However, a concussion can also be caused by non-contact sports, car accidents, and falls.
The best plan is to get educated on concussion symptoms and know what to do if a concussion is suspected. After proper education, baseline testing is a great way to be prepared if you get a concussion.
How Can I Tell If I Have A Concussion?
Concussions can be tricky. Even trained healthcare providers may have a hard time diagnosing concussions because of its varying signs and symptoms. The majority of the time, concussions don’t show up on CT scans or MRIs. But just because a CT scan or MRI is negative, does not rule out a concussion.
Healthcare providers have to rely on clinical expertise and objective tools to help diagnose and treat concussions. Look for a Concussion Care Provider if you’ve recently been hit in the head and experience any concussion symptoms. Keep in mind: most of the time concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness.
What Are Concussion Symptoms?
Concussion symptoms can vary drastically from person to person. Some show up right after the injury, like vomiting, dizziness, or headache. Some may show up days or weeks after the injury, like irritability, depression, or sleep problems. It is important to communicate regularly with your healthcare provider about any changes in your symptoms.
Research has shown that pre-existing risk factors may influence which concussion symptoms are experienced. For instance: an individual with a family history of migraine will likely experience migraine symptoms after head trauma. An individual with a lazy eye may experience vision problems after the head injury. Be sure that you talk about any medical conditions you have when you see a provider with a suspected concussion.
Again, you don’t need to lose consciousness to get a concussion. Check in with your healthcare provider if you experience any concussion symptoms and have recently experienced a blow to the head.
Concussion symptoms can include:
- Problems with concentration/memory
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Change in sleep pattern
- Double or fuzzy vision
- Feeling foggy
What Should I Do For A Concussion?
Visit a trained healthcare provider if you think you have a concussion. This could be a physician or physician assistant, nurse practitioner, neuropsychologist, nurse, or an athletic trainer.
These individuals are trained to recognize concussions, and they can help you get the treatment you need. Most healthcare providers will recommend a brief period of rest followed by light activity that progresses back to full activity.
In some cases, your provider will recommend specific treatment or rehabilitation that targets the areas affected after a concussion.
How Are Concussions Diagnosed?
Healthcare providers use multiple tools and techniques to check for a concussion. There is no one perfect diagnostic tool. Clinicians rely on objective tools as well as clinical expertise and symptom reporting to help determine whether a patient has a concussion.
They may use any of the following tools to help make a concussion diagnosis:
- Clinical examination
- Neurocognitive testing (memory, reaction time, etc.)
- Balance testing
- Vestibular ocular testing
- Symptom inventories
What Is A Concussion Test?
A concussion test is a tool or device used to check a person’s level of functioning after a suspected concussion. There are several types of concussion tests, including neurocognitive, balance, vestibular ocular, motion sensors, and more. These tests do not diagnose concussion, but rather note deficits in function of areas known to be affected by a concussion.
Because concussion is such a hot topic, there are new devices being marketed regularly. While some tools or devices have been scientifically validated, others make claims that are not supported by science. There are many mobile apps that make untrue claims about their ability to detect a concussion.
Fortunately, there are some concussion tests that have been studied and found to be useful for assessing concussion. Healthcare providers have resources and research available to help them select validated tests. Most importantly, there is no one perfect concussion test. Healthcare providers need to use multiple sources to help them make concussion diagnosis and return to activity decisions.
How Are Concussions Treated?
Concussion is treated differently depending on the symptoms a person has. Research has shown that active rehabilitation and actively targeting deficits a person experiencing is an excellent way to treat a concussion.
Similarly, someone who sustains a concussion for the first time will be treated differently than someone who has had repeated concussions. Common concussion treatments include vision therapy, vestibular therapy, and exertion therapy.
How Long Does A Concussion Last?
Concussion recovery times vary depending on the severity of the head injury and how it is treated. If properly treated, most patients recover from concussions in 2 to 3 weeks.
Some people think that the best way to treat a concussion is to rest and stay away from activity. However, research has shown that this is not the case. In fact, patients who participate in active rehab are more likely to get back to school, work, and activity more quickly.
Trained healthcare providers recommend a brief period of rest followed by increasing physical activity. For patients who experience post-concussion syndrome, recovery can take longer, up to a few months if not treated properly.
How Long Do Concussion Symptoms Last?
Concussion symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to weeks or months. This usually depends on whether or not the concussion is properly cared for. Post-concussion syndrome refers to lingering symptoms that last longer than the expected recovery time (about 3 weeks in adults, and up to a month in young children and adolescents).
Repeated concussions can cause symptoms to get much worse and can even cause life-threatening issues and long-term damage. It’s important that individuals speak up if they notice any concussion signs and a teammate acting out of character.
Concussion symptoms may sometimes look like other disorders, including depression or chronic migraines. If it’s happening to you or someone you know, recommend that they visit a healthcare provider to check for a concussion.
What Are The Concerns With Not Reporting A Concussion?
There are severe risks if you continue to participate in an activity after a head injury. If you are not evaluated for a concussion by a trained healthcare provider, you may be at risk for second impact syndrome and post-concussion syndrome. It is important to tell someone if you have had a hit to the head or body and are feeling any symptoms that can be related to a concussion.