What is a concussion?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that has an effect on the way your brain functions. They’re typically caused by a sudden hit to the head, or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to jerk back and forth with impact. The most common cause of a concussion is falling, but they’re are also common in sports that involve body to body contact like football or hockey.
Impact trauma to the brain causes the delicate gelatin like substance that is the brain to stretch and damage brain cells. That’s why in some instances people lose consciousness at the time of a concussion occurring, but most do not. Since the brain is vital to the function of the body the consequences of a concussion can be far-reaching. It’s important to treat concussions seriously and seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a concussion can be delayed, or show up slowly and last for days, weeks, or even longer. The symptoms can be obvious or slightly more subtle, so after any blow to the head a medical professional should be consulted and followed up with to make sure everything is alright. The most common symptoms of a concussion are:
- Loss of memory
- Problems with balance
- Glazed look in the eyes
- Delayed response to questions
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Slurred speech
People who have undergone a concussive traumatic brain injury may. also experience sensitivity to light, sleeping more or less than usual, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Some symptoms might show up right away, though other symptoms might surface days after the concussive incident happens, so monitoring symptoms over time is an important step in treating a concussion.
What does a concussion headache feel like? Concussion headaches usually feel different than a typical headache because the source of the pain is completely different. Some people describe a tight band around the head, or a constant pressure. After a traumatic brain injury there may be problems with the cerebral flow which gives a feeling of pressure or a clamp around the head. The autonomic nervous system is effected, which is the system responsible for automatic processes like heart rate, respiration, vascular constriction, dilation and others. Since concussions effect the autonomic nervous system this also disrupts the regulation of the flow of blood in the brain and thus causes these severe headaches.
Post-concussion headaches might go away on their own very quickly, or they may linger for a longer period of time. Medication can be used to manage the headaches and pain, but if the headaches continue to linger long enough a medical professional may be needed to assess the situation and recommend additional treatment for the headache.
What are Concussion Grades?
Concussions grades were created in 1991 by the Colorado Medical Society in response to the death of a high school athlete, however the American Academy of Neurology emphasized the importance of a detailed neurological assessment following a concussion before returning to play. Athletes who have experienced a concussion are at the highest risk of a recurrent concussion within 10 days of the initial concussion.
A Grade 1 concussion involves milder symptoms, but still include temporary confusion without amnesia with symptoms resolving in less than 15 minutes. The recommendation by the Colorado Medical Society allows return to gameplay within 15 minutes of this type of concussion. Grade 2 concussions include confusion with amnesia, but no loss of consciousness, and symptoms are lasting more than 15 minutes. Return to gameplay is recommended after a week of resting as not to expose the player to greater risk of a secondary concussion. Grade 3 concussions involve a loss of consciousness for any length of time, with a break of 1 month to 6 months of gameplay for the first concussion. If it’s a second concussion in any grade you can expect a significantly longer break from gameplay.
In all cases a neurological expert should evaluate the health of the player or patient for any concussion and monitor the symptoms as the person heals.
How to treat a concussion
Immediately after a concussion you should allow some rest to help your brain recover from the traumatic impact. Though you should include limited activities which require some mental concentration for the first couple days post-concussion. Avoid highly stimulating activities like playing video games, schoolwork, reading or using a computer if they cause symptoms to worsen. Also avoid any physical activities that worsen your symptoms like playing sports or anything requiring physical exertion. The inflammation in the brain immediately following a concussion makes it harder for your brain to complete cognitive processes, which is why avoiding taxing mental activities is initially important.
After a few days of resting you should gradually increase activities that require more concentration and slowly increase physical exercise as long as they don’t trigger any symptoms. It’s important to note though that any activity that has a high risk of another head impact should definitely be avoided until you have fully recovered. Over the counter headache medicine like Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen and others can help manage pain as you recover from a concussion. If the headache is more severe and standard medications aren’t working you can consult with your doctor to see your other options.
What should I do about a mild concussion?
Mild concussion treatment is similar to any other concussion treatment, in that you should have some rest with some activity that isn’t too intense for your brain or physical body. There are some general tips anyone with even a mild concussion should follow. You should avoid driving if your symptoms include dizziness or confusion. Alcohol should also be avoided since it can mask your symptoms or make them worse. You should also drink at least 4-6 glasses of water a day and eat something healthy every two hours while awake. Caffeine ie also something that should be limited or avoided, as well as daytime naps. Keeping a headache diary can also help identify headache triggers and determine how well treatment is working.
Post Concussion Syndrome
Post concussion syndrome is the persistent symptoms that follow after a concussion for weeks, months, or up to a year after the initial injury. The symptoms are similar to that of a concussion, including headaches, dizziness and problems concentrating as well as memory loss. Not everyone experiences post-concussion syndrome after a concussion, people who are at higher risk include those with previous concussions, those who have amnesia, a prior history of headaches and younger people are at a higher risk as well. Usually the type of headaches in post concussion syndrome are tension-type headaches, but the patient can also experience migraines.
The early recovery lasts from a couple days up to a week of gradually resuming normal activities as symptoms improve. The most important part of this recovery process is that you take it slow and gradual, and avoid anything that makes symptoms worse. Most people can return to work or school within a week as they recover from a concussion. If symptoms do get worse with one type of activity, try taking a break or a milder version of the activity. Getting a good 7-8 hours of sleep every night is also very important. If you don’t know if you should be doing a certain type of activity in the first week, check with a doctor.