How serious are they?
It’s the time of year when you want to be outside enjoying your favorite summertime activities. For most of us, this means doing things that require us to be physically active. While this is great for your health, it can put you at an increased risk for an injury, particularly a head injury. How do you know if you have a concussion after hitting your head? How dangerous are concussions? What should you do to treat one? How do you prevent yourself from getting one?
Concussions are the result of a traumatic injury to your brain and can alter how your brain functions temporarily. Your brain is soft and has the texture of gelatin. Normally, it’s protected by the fluid inside your head. Anything that results in your brain hitting the inside of your skull can injure it. If you take a blow to your head, experience violent shaking of your head and upper body or have a sudden acceleration/deceleration of your head, such as what happens in a car accident, you are more likely to get a concussion. Many people believe that you can only develop a concussion if you lose consciousness after the injury. This isn’t true. You can actually have a concussion and not even realize it. In fact, sometimes symptoms of a concussion are subtle and don’t appear right after the event.
The most common symptoms of a concussion are headache, confusion and amnesia, particularly of the event that was the cause. These usually happen right after the injury. Other symptoms that happen close to the time of injury include dizziness, ringing in your ears, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, appearing dazed, delayed responses to questions, fatigue and temporary loss of consciousness. Symptoms of a concussion that appear several hours or days after the injury are difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, irritability, personality changes, increased sensitivity to light and noise, trouble sleeping, depression and changes to taste/smell. An important consideration are children because they are prone to hitting their head and won’t be able to communicate how they’re feeling. Some symptoms that they can exhibit include appearing dazed, unusually cranky, tires easily, unsteady when walking, crying excessively, change in eating/sleeping patterns and decreased interest in their favorite toys.
Certain things can increase your risk of developing a concussion. This can be participating in contact sports, like football, hockey or boxing. If you aren’t wearing the proper protective equipment while playing these sports, you increase your risk even more. Some other possible things that can increase your risk of a concussion are being in a car accident, being involved in an accident if you’re a pedestrian or riding a bike and falling (this is especially true for children and the elderly). You are also at a heightened risk if you’ve had a previous concussion.
If you experience an injury to your head and have repeated vomiting, lose consciousness for more than 30 seconds, have a headache that continues to get worse, changes in your physical coordination, changes to your behavior, confusion or slurred speech, you should go to the emergency room. You should also seek immediate medical care if you have seizures, vision changes (ex. one pupil larger than the other), dizziness that won’t go away or any symptoms that get worse over time. For children, if they have any of these symptoms or a large bump or bruise anywhere on their head, except their forehead, they should be seen by a doctor immediately. This is especially important if they’re less than a year old. If your child hits their head and isn’t showing any signs of a serious head injury, which means they remain alert and respond appropriately to you, then they properly don’t need to be seen by a doctor right away and it’s okay to let them sleep if they want to take a nap. Most pediatricians recommend that a child been seen within a day or two of hitting their head just to be on the safe side.
When the injury to your brain is serious, you might need to be hospitalized overnight so you can be monitored to make sure that you don’t have any dangerous complications, like swelling of or bleeding in/around your brain. However, most of the time, it’ll be okay for you to be at home, but you need to have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours after your injury. This is to make sure any symptoms you have don’t get worse. In order to do this, the person will need to wake you up regularly to make sure that you don’t have any changes in neurological function.
The best at home treatment for a concussion is to rest, both physically and mentally. Avoid any sports or activities that make any of your symptoms worse or would put you at increased risk for another head injury. Your doctor will tell you when it’s safe to resume these activities. You should also avoid activities that require mental concentration and thinking because this can make your symptoms worse. Some of these would be playing video games, watching TV, doing work, reading or using an electronic device. If your symptoms are worsened by these activities, your doctor will probably recommend shortening the amount of time you spend at work/school and decreasing your workload until you feel better. If you are having a headache, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen. Talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen or aspirin because they can increase your risk for bleeding.
There are steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing a concussion. When participating in sports or recreational activities, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment that fits appropriately and has been well-maintained. Always wear your seat belt whenever you are in a vehicle to prevent from being thrown around inside or ejected if an accident occurs. Another key idea is to make your home safe by having your floors free of things that might cause you to trip and have plenty of lighting so you can see. Both of these can help prevent falls. For children, it’s important to use baby gates at the tops and bottoms of stairs and install window guards. If you exercise regularly, you increase your leg muscle strength, which help you maintain better balance.
Concussions can happen despite doing everything you can to prevent one. If you do have one, take the necessary steps to feel better and prevent any further injuries. If you have any questions or concerns about concussions, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the MedlinePlus’ concussion page at https://medlineplus.gov/concussion.html