What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Some ways to get a concussion are: hitting your head during a fall, car crash, or sports injury. Health care professionals sometimes refer to concussions as “mild” brain injuries because they are usually not life-threatening. Even so, subsequent effects can be serious and therefore concussions require medical attention.
What can I expect after a Concussion?
Most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully. During recovery, it is important to know that there are a range of symptoms. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not be noticed for hours or even days after the injury. Sometimes, you may not realize you have problems until you try to do your usual activities again, and notice something feels unusual.
Post-concussive symptoms can involve physical symptoms, cognitive difficulties (thinking, processing information, remembering things), emotional/mood changes and/or sleep problems. Some symptoms include:
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Nausea or vomiting (early on)
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Feeling tired (having no energy)
- Fuzzy or blurry vision
- Balance problems
- Being more emotional than usual
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sleeping more than usual
- Sleeping less than usual
- Trouble falling asleep
These post-concussive symptoms can be part of the normal healing process and are generally not signs of permanent damage or serious health problems. Most symptoms go away within 2 weeks without any medical intervention.
- Getting plenty of rest and sleep helps the brain to heal. In other words, do not try to do too much too fast
- Avoid activities that are physically demanding (exercising) or require a lot of thinking or concentration (e.g. texting, working on the computer, playing video games). Ignoring your symptoms and “toughing it out” often make symptoms worse.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain following the directions on the container. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen unless instructed by your health care professional. A light diet is recommended.
- You should NEVER return to full activities if you still have ANY symptoms – (Be sure that you do not have any symptoms at rest and while doing any physical activity and/or activities that require a lot of thinking or concentration.)
- As symptoms decrease, you may begin to gradually return to your daily activities. If symptoms worsen or return, lessen your activities, then try again to increase your activities gradually.
- It is normal to feel frustrated, sad and even angry because you cannot return to normal activities right away. With any injury, a full recovery will reduce the chances of getting hurt again.
- Gradual Return Plan/Activity
- Pay careful attention to your symptoms and your cognitive and concentration skills at each stage of activity. Move to the next level of activity only if you do not experience any symptoms at each level. If your symptoms return, stop these activities and let your health care professional know. They will give you recommendations about how to proceed from one level to the next.
- Return to activities should occur in gradual steps beginning with aerobic exercise only to increase your heart rate (e.g., stationary cycle); moving to increasing your heart rate with movement (e.g., running); then adding controlled contact if appropriate, and finally return to sports competition.
When should I go to the hospital emergency department?
Sometimes serious problems develop after a head injury. Go to the emergency department if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Repeated vomiting
- Headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Loss of consciousness or unable to stay awake during times you would normally be awake
- Getting more confused, restless or agitated
- Convulsions or seizures
- Difficulty walking or difficulty with balance
- Weakness or numbness
- Difficulty with your vision
- Difficulty speaking
Most of all, if you have any symptom that concerns you, your family members, or friends, don’t delay; go to the Emergency Department or seek medical care right away.