Most people have a basic understanding of what a concussion is. You might sometimes hear the term involved with contact sports such as football, soccer, lacrosse or hockey. However, concussions can happen to anyone – not just athletes – in many different contexts and situations. These are complex injuries that might seem minor at first, but all too often have significant lifelong impacts on those who sustain concussions.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is a form of a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) that can result from any type of bump, jolt to, or shaking of the head. When your head shakes or sustains even slight “exterior” trauma, it can damage your brain tissue resulting in a TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Concussions fall into the “mild” category of TBI only because of the way symptoms immediately present. More serious brain injuries might result in prolonged unconsciousness, memory loss, and other disabling effects. Comparatively, symptoms of a concussion can be, though are not always, less serious. Some people might not even appreciate their injuries when those around them do.
Anyone who suffers a concussion, or traumatic brain injury, should realize that the “mild” diagnosis only correlates to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to the overall prognosis. In many cases, the long-term prognosis can involve persistent effects of the brain injury that can affect your cognitive, behavioral, and physical functioning. The results of a concussion are often anything but “mild” to victims.
How Concussions Happen
Concussions can happen in many different ways. It is important to recognize when something happened that has the potential to cause this type of injury.
The first sign that you might have a concussion is that you sustained head trauma or a jolt of your head due to:
- Car collision;
- Truck accident;
- Motorcycle or bicycle crash;
- Pedestrian vs. car collision;
- Slip, trip, or fall;
- Getting hit by an object;
- Sports injuries.
After any of the above incidents, you should watch out for any of the many signs and symptoms of a concussion.
Common Concussion Symptoms in Adults
Concussions affect victims differently depending on which part of the brain is injured.
Some common symptoms include:
- Persistent headaches;
- Persistent neck pain;
- Trouble focusing or concentrating;
- Memory problems;
- Difficulty with decision-making;
- Feeling dazed, confused or lost;
- Lack of motivation or energy;
- Fatigue and tiredness;
- Mood swings for no reason, especially feeling irritable, angry, or sad;
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping;
- Nausea and the urge to vomit;
- Dizziness or light-headedness;
- Lack of balance or coordination;
- Increased sound or light sensitivity;
- Tired eyes or blurred vision or unusual eye movements;
- Lost taste or smell;
- Hearing a ringing in your ears.
Often, people mistake headaches or feeling disoriented as “normal” reactions to being involved in an accident or traumatic event. In reality, these might be symptoms of a concussion.
Signs of Concussion in Children
While adults might often overlook or mistake their own concussion symptoms, these symptoms are even more difficult to identify in children. This is because children might not know how to identify or express out-of-the-ordinary feelings.
Concussions are riskier in children since their brains are still developing. Even minor damage to a child’s brain can cause lasting alterations in cognitive or behavioral abilities, developmental milestones, and more.
If you believe your child hit his or her head or experienced a violent jolt or shaking, watch for any of these signs they might have a concussion:
- Being tired or listless;
- Crankiness or irritability;
- Continuous crying even with consolation;
- Unwillingness to nurse or eat;
- Changes to usual sleeping patterns;
- Decreased attention or performance in school;
- Inability to find the right words;
- Changes in play habits;
- Lost interest in favorite games, toys, or activities;
- Unsteady walking or lack of balance;
- Forgetting newly-learned skills or other regressions;
- Nausea or vomiting.
Caretakers—such as a parent, teacher, coach, or babysitter—should watch for signs that a child is not feeling or acting like themselves after a potential head injury.
Seeking Medical Treatment
Many people disregard symptoms of mild concussions. They might not notice the symptoms or might associate them with other causes such as a tension headache or fatigue due to stress. In reality, they might need important medical treatment for a brain injury.
If you hit your head and feel any different than usual, you should seek a medical evaluation. Medical professionals have diagnostic tools to determine when you sustained a brain injury and they can advise you how to proceed. Often, treatment for a concussion involves physical and cognitive rest and staying aware of worsening symptoms.
Concussions or TBI’s can also involve serious conditions such as brain bleeds or skull fractures. You want a diagnosis of all conditions or complications related to your brain injury as soon as possible.
Outcomes of Concussions
The outcomes of concussions can vary widely. Most people rest for a while and find that their symptoms completely clear up relatively quickly. These patients might move on with their lives with little to no concern about their injuries.
Others who suffer concussion injuries are not so fortunate. About 15 percent of concussion victims continue to experience debilitating symptoms for weeks, months and even years. Medical professionals refer to this as post-concussion syndrome.
Ongoing symptoms can be particularly challenging for those diagnosed with concussions or “mild” traumatic brain injuries. This is because most people, when they hear “concussion” or “mild” assume that the injury will heal soon and they will not experience ongoing problems. When they do continue to suffer cognitive, physical, and/or behavioral symptoms, they might not recognize that they are due to a concussion. This can lead to many problems.
First, your family, friends, coworkers, and other support systems might get frustrated with ongoing symptoms as they assume your injury healed. Neither the victim nor those close to them might associate the challenges with the injury which can cause personal and professional strain and stress and jeopardy.
Even if your doctor says your concussion is “mild,” always keep in mind that the symptoms can persist. Never hesitate to report ALL your symptoms and to return to seek additional medical or rehabilitative help if you have ongoing symptoms of a concussion.