Brain injuries happen every day – children fall on playgrounds, people are involved in bicycle and car crashes, athletes collide in the course of play. Sometimes though, a nasty bump on the head can turn into something more serious.
A concussion is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a bump, blow or jolt to the head that changes normal brain functions. An injury to the body that causes the head and brain to move back and forth quickly can also cause concussions, even though there is no direct impact to the head. Shaken baby syndrome is one example of this type of concussive injury.
Concussion is actually a mild form of traumatic brain injury and needs medical attention to prevent it from turning into something more serious.
If you have recently had a blow to the head and experience any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention immediately. You might be suffering from a concussion.
- Headache pain that increases or will not go away
- Nausea / vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Confusion / disorientation
- Problems concentrating or paying attention
- Ringing in the ears
- Disruption of balance / unsteadiness
- Blurry / fuzzy vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Stumbling / slowed movement
- Sleepiness, difficulty waking up
- Lack of energy
- Irritability, restlessness, agitation or other uncharacteristic behavior
- Pupil dilation in one eye
If a head injury causes a person to lose consciousness, watch that person carefully for signs of concussion.
Young children may not be able to verbalize what they feel. You should look for the same signs, which may be accompanied by inconsolable crying or an unwillingness to nurse or eat. These serious symptoms require medical attention.
If you have experienced a head injury and you are taking blood thinning medications, such as coumadin, you should seek medical attention immediately even if you do not have any symptoms.
What happens during a concussion?
The brain is not attached inside the skull; it floats in cerebral-spinal fluid. When the head experiences blunt-force trauma or is shaken violently, the brain impacts with the rough, bony surface of the inside of the skull. This creates tears and fissures in the brain cells. These tears can have major impact on thinking and movement.
Recovering from a concussion takes time.
If you have experienced a concussion it is important that you give yourself time to heal. Get plenty of rest at night and take rest breaks during the day. Eat well, drink lots of fluids and avoid activities that require concentration or physical activity until you have your health care provider’s permission to do so. Returning to physical or cognitive activity too soon may put you at risk of causing more injury or complications and increase recovery time.
Pre-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders may also delay healing.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, a second concussion is exponentially worse than the first. Therefore, it's extremely important to avoid a repeat injury while healing.
If you suspect a concussion, take “A-Head Check*”
Is the person alert? Question him / her:
- Can you open your eyes?
- Can you explain to me what happened?
- If there is no response, immediately call 9-1-1.
If the person is alert, ask him / her:
- Do you have a severe headache?
- Do you feel like you may vomit?
- Do you have difficulty staying awake?
- If the answer is “yes,” to any of these questions, call 9-1-1.
All head injuries should be evaluated by a health care professional. A hit on the head can cause brain injury.
- Brain injuries can range from a mild concussion to a coma.
- Symptoms may appear hours or days later.
After a brain injury, a person should rest and not engage in activities requiring a lot of concentration or physical activity until symptom-free.
*Source: Centers for Disease Control
Athletes be aware: concussions are common in sports
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be knocked out to sustain a concussion. In fact, less than 10 percent of athletes lose consciousness. A forceful blow to the head when colliding with other players or course obstacles can also result in a concussion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 percent of high school athletes will sustain some sort of concussive injury before graduation.
If your child is 10 years old or older and plays sports in school, it might be a good idea to have your health care provider conduct a base-line test for concussion. This helps providers after a head injury to determine the severity of the injury and the course of treatment.
You can prevent concussions
You can’t always avoid accidents, but there are some things that you can do to prevent concussions. Always wear a seat belt when it is available.
Always wear a helmet when biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing or playing contact sports. A helmet can reduce your risk of concussion by 85 percent.
Preventing falls can help prevent concussions
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people 75 years old and older have the highest incidence of traumatic brain injury that results in hospitalization or death due to falls.
- Here are seven fall-prevention tips for older people*
- Participate in an exercise program. This will help an older person gain strength and retain a sense of balance, which can prevent falls.
- Remove items around the home, like area rugs and items on the floor that could cause an older person to trip and fall.
- Install hand railings in areas where balance could be an issue, such as near the bathtub or near steps.
- Place non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower.
- Older people should wear well-fitting shoes and avoid walking in socks and slippers.
- Light living areas well. This is especially important, as people grow older.
- Don’t use stools to chairs to reach higher items. Older people should store often used items in areas that are easily reached.
*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention