Concussions are widely misunderstood.
You might think you must lose consciousness to have a concussion. Or, you may assume that it requires a severe (if not violent) blow to the head to create a concussion.
However, concussions are a form of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and they range from mild to severe, depending on the nature of the incident and severity of the trauma. Assuming you could not possibly have a concussion or that a loved one would not have a concussion because they did not lose consciousness could result in long-term complications.
Instead, know the signs and symptoms, be aware of how someone acts after an accident, and know when to seek medical treatment to prevent further issues.
What Is a Concussion?
As discussed, a concussion is a type of TBI that affects normal brain function. The effects of a concussion are typically temporary, but those effects still impact your life.
In most cases, concussions fall under the category of mild TBIs or mTBIs. They stem from a blow to the head or a violent shaking of the head, neck, and body. Most importantly, you do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion. A vast majority of mTBI sufferers never lost consciousness.
Concussions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are the most common type of TBI seen.
In 2013, approximately 2.8 million TBI-related emergency room visits, deaths, and hospitalizations occurred, and children are one of the highest risk categories for a TBI concussion.
Most people who have a concussion will recover without complication. However, it is imperative that they exercise brain rest. Without proper rest and recovery, a second incident could result in permanent brain damage.
The Science behind a Concussion – How It Happens
Think of the brain like a bowl of gelatin. Every day, the brain receives cushioning from bumps and jolts because of the cerebrospinal fluid in the skull that protects it.
If the body or head receives a violent blow or shaking, the brain slides back and forth, slamming against the hard sides of the skull. These injuries affect brain function, and while it is brief, it results in a concussion.
Concussions may lead to bleeding in the brain or around the brain, which can create additional symptoms immediately after the accident or a few days later. Bleeding in the brain is very serious and can be fatal if left untreated.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion or mTBI
Concussion symptoms might appear immediately after the accident, while other times they can take a few hours. Likewise, more symptoms may appear as time goes on. And these signs can last a few days, weeks, or longer, depending on the severity of the incident.
The most common symptoms immediately after a concussion are headache, memory complications, and confusion. Sometimes, a person briefly forgets the event that caused their injury.
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion That May Appear Immediately, in a Few Hours, or Progress over a Few Days:
- Feeling of pressure in the head
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion or a foggy feeling
- Amnesia about the event
- Seeing stars or dizziness
- Ringing in the ears
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Slower responses to questions
- Fatigue and excessive sleepiness
- Appearing dazed and confused
Symptoms More Common to Appear a Few Hours or Days after the TBI
- Concentration and memory issues
- Personality changes
- Unexplained irritability
- Sensitivity to noise and light
- Sleep issues
- Depression or anxiety
- Taste and smell disorders
Symptoms of a Concussion for Small Children Are Not the Same
Children may have different symptoms than a teen or adult. And because children are one of the highest risk groups for these injuries, it is essential that you know the symptoms more common in small children, including:
- Appearing dazed after the accident
- Tiring easily or appearing listless
- Crankiness or irritability
- Crying without being calmed easily
- Sleeping or eating pattern changes
- Lack of interest in toys or activities
- Balance issues or walking unsteadily
Look for the Four Categories
According to the CDC, most concussion symptoms fall into categories and patterns. Therefore, you might notice the same group of symptoms together. These four categories include:
- Difficulty thinking clearly, headaches, blurred vision, irritability, and sleeping more than usual
- Feeling slower, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, sadness, and sleeping less than usual
- Inability to concentrate, sensitivity to light and sound, balance issues, uncontrolled emotions, and issues falling asleep
- Inability to remember new information, no energy and feeling fatigued, nervousness, and anxiety
Some of the symptoms in these categories appear immediately after, while others take a few hours or days.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
It is best to go to your doctor or visit the emergency room immediately after head trauma to be safe. But if you cannot go right away, know the warning signs of a more severe injury. The warning signs will vary by adult and child:
Warning Signs for Adults with a mTBI
A concussion may result in a blood clot, intracranial pressure, and other complications, but this is extremely rare. If a complication does occur, a person’s concussion symptoms will worsen, and they may experience:
- A headache that persists without relief
- Weakness, decreased coordination, and numbness in the extremities
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
Anyone in charge of checking on someone with a concussion should take them to the emergency room immediately if:
- They are incredibly drowsy or cannot be woken from sleep
- One pupil becomes larger than the other
- They develop convulsions or seizures
- The victim cannot recognize people or places
- They become more restless, irritable, or confused
- They lose consciousness
- They exhibit any behavior that is not normal for them
Warning Signs for Children Suffering from an mTBI
The warning signs for children include all of the adult signs above. Plus, if the child will not stop crying, will not nurse or eat, and is inconsolable.
See a Doctor in One to Two Days When Emergent Symptoms Are Not Present
If you or a loved one suffers from head trauma, but none of the warning signs are present, you may be tempted to wait to see your family physician. However, it is still highly encouraged that you seek medical treatment immediately. A CT Scan or MRI may diagnose a TBI faster and catch any potential risks before they turn into more severe complications.
Know the Risk Factors
Certain situations can increase the chances that yourself or a loved one suffers a concussion. These may include:
- Falls: Falls, slips, and trips in children and adults may lead to concussion.
- High-Risk Sports: Certain sports put an individual at higher risk for suffering a brain injury, such as football, soccer, rugby, boxing, and any other rigorous contact sport.
- Not Wearing Safety Equipment: Even when participating in a sport, a person should always wear helmets and any other required safety equipment to protect their brain.
- Motorcycle Riders: Those riding motorcycles, scooters, and even cyclists are at higher risk. Compared to driving in a motor vehicle, impacts with vehicles and objects on the roadway are much more severe.
- Military Service Members: Those in the military, especially in combat situations, are at higher risk for brain trauma.
- Physical Abuse: Any form of physical violence, whether domestic or an assault, increases the risk of suffering from a mTBI or worse.
- Previous Concussions: The more concussions a person has, the higher the risk that they will have subsequent trauma.
Know the Complications
Most concussions do not see complications, but there is always a chance of these rare incidents. And it is essential to be aware of them.
Some complications are minor, while others can be life-threatening:
- Headaches and Migraine Conditions – A person may suffer temporary or permanent migraines and headache conditions following head trauma. Some may experience these headaches weeks to months after the initial injury.
- Vertigo – Some victims suffer from spinning or dizziness for months following an injury.
- Concussion Syndrome – This results in headaches, the inability to think, and dizziness for weeks or months following the initial event.
- Cumulative Impairments – Multiple concussions can lead to cumulative events, including progressive brain diseases.
Those who play high-risk sports should not return to the game until they have been cleared medically. Returning to the game puts a player at risk for cumulative impairments and second impact syndrome. While rare, second impact syndrome can result in rapid and fatal brain swelling.
Prevention Is Key
While you cannot prevent every bump on the head, there are ways to protect yourself and loved ones from the risks of a concussion.
Some things you can do include:
- Using Helmets – Whether riding a bike, on a scooter, or playing a contact sport, a helmet is the first line of defense and one of the most often missed. A helmet ensures that you or your child does not absorb the impact of an accident using your skull and brain, and it can dramatically reduce the severity of your brain injury.
- Use Seatbelts and Car seats – Another easy way to prevent serious TBIs is to use the age and size-appropriate car seats and seatbelts. Adults tend to forget about their seatbelt. And while they might be fine with the risks for themselves, they do not realize that, in an accident, they could seriously injure someone else when their body moves around the vehicle.
- Reduce Safety Hazards at Home – Slip, trip, and falls are another cause of brain trauma. For example, falling down the stairs. Install baby gates when you have small children to keep them from having access to the stairwell.
Meet with an Attorney If Your TBI Was the Result of Someone’s Negligence
If you or a loved one suffered an mTBI or more severe TBI and you now have long-term complications as a result, you may be entitled to compensation when that accident was caused by negligence.
To explore your options, meet with a personal injury attorney that has experience handling complex cases like brain injuries.