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A concussion is an injury to your brain caused by a sudden, violent jolt that interferes with how the brain works. The concussive force can cause stretching and tearing to the brain and soft tissue that supports it. It can affect brain tasks like memory, balance, concentration, judgement, and coordination. Most will have a full recovery but the brain will need time to heal with the proper rest and monitoring. Symptoms may last for days, weeks, or even longer. They may be immediately present or appear a few hours or days after the injury. The symptoms that develop will depend on the severity of the injury.

A doctor should be consulted if serious symptoms like confusion and vomiting occur or if symptoms get worse.

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Low-grade headache or neck pain
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Ringing in the ears or trouble hearing
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling fatigued or tired
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds, light, or distraction
  • Numbness
  • Change in sleeping pattern, sleeping more than normal or trouble sleeping
  • Seizures

Mental and emotional symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness or memory about the accident
  • Trouble processing information such as difficulty remembering things, paying attention or concentrating, organizing daily tasks, or making decisions and solving problems
  • Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
  • Mood instability or depressive changes

Concussion in Young Children

Young children may not be able to clearly communicate symptoms. Talk to a doctor if the child has had a head injury and is showing any of the following symptoms:

  • Listlessness or tiring easily
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Changes in: eating or sleeping patterns, play, behavior, or school performance
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys or activities
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance, unsteady walking

Diagnosing Concussion

Players will be asked about symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how the player reacted. A physical exam will be done, and will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory. The doctor will often be able to diagnose a concussion based on the exam and history. A CT scan may be done if there are severe symptoms or certain risk factors but are not always needed.

Recovery from Concussion

At first, the brain will need full rest as it can often heal on its own. This means adjusting physical activities and decreasing mentally-demanding tasks. Early in recovery, activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork will need to be avoided. For children this also includes avoiding video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.

Mental and physical activities will gradually be added once initial symptoms improve. Symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to current activity levels will be tested throughout recovery. This information will be used to decide if further rest is needed or it is time to progress to the next step. Returning to mental or physical activities too quickly can make symptoms worse and slow the recovery process.

Secondary Concussion

Concussions are one of the most serious and discussed topics facing athletes, coaches, and parents today. Not only are primary concussions of concern, but secondary concussions can add a compounding deadly factor if not diagnosed and addressed properly. Because concussions usually cannot be diagnosed with only a visual external examination, it’s important that an athlete with a suspected concussion be fully evaluated both before and after the concussive event. With increasing Return-to-Play (RTP) protocols being instituted, sports medicine providers hope to catch concussions early and keep athletes safe as they continue with their chosen sports.

For more information about concussions, or to schedule an appointment at HCA Virginia Sports Medicine for a baseline screening, call (804) 560-6500 today.