A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury, is a type of brain injury that can occur due to a direct or indirect blow to the head.
When a person receives a blow to the head or body, the impact shakes the brain and causes some internal damage. The injury disrupts the brain’s neurons, which are responsible for transmitting information to different parts of the body.
The neurons can stop functioning properly, which is what causes the symptoms of a concussion. People with a concussion may experience loss of consciousness, disorientation, and nausea.
In this article, we will look at the symptoms of a concussion, how to spot signs of a concussion in others, and what to do for a concussion.
The time that it takes to recover from a concussion will vary depending on the severity of the injury and the health of the person, among other factors.
People can follow the steps below to aid recovery.
Immediately after the injury
The first step for someone with a concussion is to leave the area where the injury occurred. If the injury happened during sport, a coach should remove the person from the playing field.
Athletes who immediately stop play after a suspected concussion recover more quickly than those who return to play and receive an assessment later.
Next, the person should seek help from a doctor. While waiting for help, they should not be alone.
Some sports coaches use diagnostic tools to assess a player before they go to the hospital. These include Sport (or Sideline) Concussion Assessment Tool 5 and the Child SCAT-5. However, there are no set criteria for a concussion diagnosis.
During the first assessment, a doctor will ask questions about:
- the accident
- the symptoms
- when the symptoms began
- the severity of the symptoms
The doctor will then perform a physical examination of the head and neck area for injuries. A neurological exam will test a person’s:
The doctor will also run cognitive tests and assess the person’s emotional state. A neuropsychologist may supplement the doctor’s examinations with their own assessment.
24–48 hours after the injury
The person should restrict cognitive and physical activity for 24–48 hours after the injury.
Again, it is important that they are not alone during this time, as symptoms can appear days after the injury. If the symptoms worsen or become severe, a person should report these changes to a doctor.
If a person has pain or a headache, they may wish to take pain relievers to manage it. However, doctors may encourage people to avoid the prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), as this overuse can also cause headaches.
Overuse can also cause serious complications, so it is important to only take medication according to the directions on the label or a doctor’s instructions.
A week after the injury
There is not enough evidence to suggest that complete rest is the best option for concussion recovery. Due to this, doctors encourage people to return gradually to their usual activities, being careful to avoid any that make their symptoms worse.
Once the symptoms start to resolve, a person may notice that they are able to do more. However, they should only return to sports when they are completely symptom-free.
Before returning to normal cognitive and physical activities, people with a recent concussion should speak to a doctor.
Once a person returns to sport and other activities, they should practice concussion prevention strategies.
These may include wearing protective gear, such as helmets or mouth guards. However, there is a limited amount of evidence to prove that this gear is effective against concussion.
For sports, other safety strategies, such as stricter body-checking policies, may help prevent concussions.
People with the symptoms of a concussion should always see a doctor.
However, there are additional signs of danger that require emergency care. If a person has any of these symptoms, they must seek help immediately:
A person with a concussion may experience physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.
The most common symptom is a headache. Research suggests that 86–96% of people will develop a headache after getting a concussion. People may also experience dizziness, balance disturbances, and confusion.
Anyone with the symptoms of a concussion must seek medical attention.
The following table lists common signs and symptoms of a concussion:
|anxiety||sleeping less||blurred vision||amnesia|
|depression||sleepiness||poor balance||delayed verbal responses|
|emotional imbalances||fatigue||difficulty concentrating|
|sadness||light sensitivity||“brain fog”|
|noise sensitivity||feeling stunned|
|numbness||inability to focus|
|ringing in the ears||loss of consciousness|
If a person receives a blow to the head or body, an observer may notice these signs of a concussion:
- being unable to recall events before or just after the injury
- appearing dazed or stunned
- moving clumsily
- answering questions slowly
- losing consciousness, even if only briefly
- sudden mood, behavior, or personality changes
- being unable to follow instructions
In babies, parents and caregivers may notice a refusal to eat or continual crying. Older children may report similar symptoms as adults, including headaches and memory loss.
Although some symptoms appear immediately after the injury, some may take longer to develop.
It is important for parents and caregivers to check in on their children in the hours and days after a concussion to watch for any symptom progression. If symptoms get worse or are severe, it is important to seek immediate help.
People can get a concussion from a direct or indirect injury to the head. A direct injury is when something impacts the head, which can happen during:
- motor vehicle accidents
- recreational sports, such as football or soccer
An indirect injury happens when a strong force impacts a different location on the body. Sometimes, this can also cause injury to the brain.
A concussion can lead to several different complications, including those below.
Doctors say that the severity of the initial symptoms does not predict future complications. However, a history of previous concussion makes it more likely that someone will develop postconcussion syndrome.
Another serious complication is second-impact syndrome (SIS). Second-impact syndrome occurs when someone with a concussion receives another blow to the head or body before the first injury has resolved.
People with SIS may have rapid and severe swelling in the brain. In some cases, SIS may cause brain herniation and death.
Researchers are still unclear about the long-term consequences of concussions.
Typically, people with a concussion start to feel better within 1–2 weeks of the injury.
Some research suggests that recovery from a concussion usually lasts about 10 days. However, the 5th International Conferences on Concussion in Sports stated that most athletes recover in about 1 month.
The severity of the concussion symptoms in the first few days can be a good indicator of how well the person may recover, although this may not help predict complications. There is no definitive way of knowing how long recovery will take.
People with a concussion can experience a wide range of symptoms that affect their cognition, physical health, emotions, and sleep. Anyone with a suspected concussion should consult a doctor immediately.
After experiencing a concussion, a person should rest for 2 days and then gradually return to normal activities. Most people begin to feel better within 1–2 weeks.