Now that many schools are in full-swing, so are all of the after-school sports, and with those sports comes the possibility of concussions. According to dosomething.org, in the United States, athletes suffer from roughly 300,000 concussions every year.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It can occur after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury that causes your head and brain to shake quickly back and forth. A concussion 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, boxing or hockey, you have an increased risk of getting a concussion. Concussions are usually not life-threatening, but they can cause serious symptoms that require medical treatment.
The topic of concussions has gained quite a bit of attention in recent years due to professional athletes retiring early as a result of repeated concussions that can cause a variety of neurological disorders, most notably, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which has been known to cause erratic behavior and even suicide.
The dangers of repeated concussions have long been known for boxers and wrestlers, a form of CTE common in these two sports, dementia pugilistica, was first described in 1928. An awareness of the risks of concussions in other sports began to grow in the 1990’s, and especially in the mid-2000’s, in both the medical and the sports communities, as a result of studies of the brains of prematurely deceased American football players, who showed extremely high incidence of CTE.
Symptoms of a concussion can 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 don’t. The symptoms may begin immediately, or they may not develop for hours, days, weeks or even months following your injury.
Signs and Symptoms of concussion
- headache or feeling of pressure in the head
- dizziness or “seeing stars”
- memory problems
- temporary loss of consciousness
- amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
- ringing in the ears
- double vision or blurred vision
- balance problems
- sensitivity to light or noise
- slurred speech
- delayed response to questions
- appearing dazed
- Symptoms in children
Head trauma is very common in young children. Concussions can be difficult to recognize in infants and toddlers because they can’t describe how they feel.
- appearing dazed
- listlessness and tiring easily
- irritability and crankiness
- loss of balance and unsteady walking
- crying excessively
- change in eating or sleeping patterns
- lack of interest in favorite toys
- Falling, especially in young children and older adults
- Participating in a high-risk sports
- Participating in high-risk sports without proper safety equipment and supervision
- Being involved in a motor vehicle collision
- Being involved in a pedestrian or bicycle accident
- Being a soldier involved in combat
- Being a victim of physical abuse
- Having had a previous concussion
Your doctor will evaluate your signs and symptoms, review your medical history and conduct a neurologic exam. As mentioned before, signs and symptoms of a concussion may not appear until hours or days after the injury. Here are a list of tests your doctor may perform or recommend:
- Cognitive testing- i.e. memory, concentration, ability to recall information etc.
- Imaging tests- CT scan of head or MRI
- Observation- you may require hospitalization overnight for observation. If your doctor agrees that you can be observed at home, you will need someone to stay with you and they may need to awaken you regularly to make sure that you can awaken normally.
- Rest, both physically and mentally is the recommended treatment. That may mean limiting video games, watching t.v., homework, reading, texting or using a computer. Shortened school days or work days are also a possibility as are frequent breaks during the day.
- Your Dr. will tell you when it’s safe to resume light physical activity, sometimes before your symptoms are completely gone, so long as it doesn’t worsen symptoms.
- Eventually, once all signs and symptoms of concussion have resolved, you and your doctor can discuss the steps you’ll need to take to safely play sports again. Resuming sports too soon increases the risk of a 2nd concussion and potentially fatal brain injury.
- For headaches, try taking a pain reliever such as acetaminophen ( Tylenol, others). Avoid other pain relievers such as ibuprofen ( Advil, Motrin IB, others) and aspirin, as these medications may increase the risk of bleeding.
- Most people completely recover from their concussions but it may take months for the symptoms to disappear . In rare cases, people experience emotional, mental or physical changes that are more lasting. Repeat concussions, though rarely fatal, can increase the chances of permanent brain damage.
- Remember that a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.