If you receive a blow, jolt or bump to your head or have an accident during which your head is forcefully jerked forward, backward or to the side, you may get what is known as a concussion. This mild traumatic brain injury can affect anyone at any age, with symptoms varying in severity and duration. Learning how to identify the signs of concussion as well as determining if experiencing one puts you at higher risk for another in the future will enable you to be well-informed on this important subject.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET A CONCUSSION?
After a fall or violent jolt or blow to the head, chemical and physical changes occur in your brain. Both nerves and blood vessels can be bruised, and there may be swelling and other chemical changes. Although concussions are not generally fatal, they can result in debilitating symptoms that may last for days or even weeks.
HOW DO CONCUSSIONS HAPPEN?
The brain is a soft, squishy mass of tissue. When you experience a severe jolt, blow or bump to the head, it can collide with the hard bones of the skull within which it is housed. Consequently, brain cells can be stretched or damaged, and chemical reactions can take place that impair your brain’s ability to function.
WHO IS AT RISK FOR CONCUSSIONS?
As we stated above, traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone. However, the following populations are particularly susceptible:
- Very young and very old people.
- Those engaged in contact sports, particularly adolescents.
- Military personnel in combat zones.
- People who are physically abused.
- Anyone who has been in a car accident.
- Those who have had concussions in the past.
Of all these groups, adolescents are most likely to get concussions. Their weaker neck muscles and their tendency to participate in physical activities combined with the fact that their brains are not yet fully developed helps to explain this fact.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONCUSSION?
Headache is the most common indicator that you have a concussion. Other common symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or other balance problems.
- Visual changes, including double or blurry vision.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Light or noise sensitivity.
- Sleep pattern changes.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Depression, irritability, nervousness or other mood changes.
Most symptoms appear within minutes after the injury. However, others may manifest hours later. Furthermore, symptom changes can occur in the ensuing days or when you over-use your brain.
HOW IS A CONCUSSION DIAGNOSED?
If you believe you may have a concussion, you should consult with a neurologist or go to an urgent care facility. Your healthcare provider will conduct a basic neurological examination that assesses:
- Reflexes and neurological functioning.
- Vision, including reaction to light and eye movements.
- Coordination and balance.
- Neck muscles.
- Ability to think, remember and concentrate.
If your doctor believes you may have more serious conditions such as brain swelling or bleeding in your skull, more complex testing such as an MRI or a CT scan may be recommended.
HOW DO YOU RECOVER FROM A CONCUSSION?
After a concussion, you will need more physical and mental rest than normal. Resuming regular activities should be done gradually. Your body will let you know if you are overdoing it by causing your concussion symptoms to recur. Common activities that can cause symptoms include looking at a mobile phone or computer screen for too long, reading, listening to loud music, playing video games or engaging in physical activities. Be patient with yourself, and in due course of time you will be able to go back to your pre-concussion lifestyle. Most people find that their symptoms fully resolve in 14 to 21 days.
WHAT ARE REPEAT CONCUSSIONS?
If you have suffered from a concussion, you are three to five times more likely to have another one at some point in the future. This is particularly true for athletes who return to their sport too soon after their brain injury. This repeat concussion is known as second impact syndrome. With this type of secondary injury, your overall recovery can be slowed, with symptoms lasting longer and being more debilitating. In some cases, you might even end up with chronic impairments in concentration or memory, balance or headaches.
Your brain is the central processing unit that ultimately controls each and every one of your bodily functions as well as your ability to concentrate, make decisions, create and problem-solve. Although a concussion is usually considered to be a mild form of brain injury, you should never under-estimate its effects. Given proper time and rest, you should be able to fully recover from your concussion in a matter of weeks. Giving your body the time it needs to fully recover can minimize the chances of your experiencing another injury before you have fully healed from the first.