What is a concussion?
A concussion is a mild form of brain injury which happens to the brain usually as a result of a direct hit to the head or a “whiplash” type injury of the neck. Concussions are frequent sports injuries but can also happen as a result of motor vehicle accidents, slips and fall, or even abuse. Concussions can occur when the brain moves around within the skull cavity, causing stretching of its connections; think an elastic band pulling and snapping. Because of how the brain is connected, most concussions affect the vision systems, although other areas or systems may be involved.
Symptoms of concussion
- Loss of consciousness
- Blurred or double vision
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue or sleepiness
- Dizziness or spinning (vertigo)
- Balance difficulties
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response to questioning
- Forgetfulness/memory issues (amnesia)
- Irritability or mood changes
These symptoms can typically last from a couple of days or up to two weeks.
I Think I Have A Concussion! Now What?
STOP the activity you are doing and remove yourself or the other person from any dangerous situation(s).
Only medical doctors can diagnose a concussion and refer you for any further imaging, should it be necessary. If you are experiencing signs of a concussion, please make your way to your medical doctor or walk-in clinic.
If your symptoms are severe or you suffer from repeated vomiting, repeated loss of consciousness, seizures, difficulty coordinating movement or speech, or have clear fluid draining from your ears or nose, call 911 and/or make your way to the emergency department.
The Ins-And-Outs of Concussion Treatment
Most concussions (85 to 90%) will resolve on their own within 10 days to one month if managed properly. Beyond a family doctor, you should have yourself assessed by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or athletic therapist with training in concussion management. You will likely be given instructions to rest a lot, at least at first, and to maintain mild physical activity like walking. You will be encouraged to stay away from using your eyes, particularly avoid looking at screens. Avoid having to work your brain too hard because your brain needs to heal. The amount of normalcy after suffering a concussion will be dictated by your symptoms and what provokes them. So, for example, if after a period of a few days of rest, you decide to read and the headaches come back quickly, you would pull back from that activity for a few more days before trying again. Your symptoms tell you what to do next!
How Do You Prevent A Concussion?
Unfortunately, concussions are hard to protect against as they do not always require a hit to the head. Prevention is done through proper safety protocols in sports by avoiding slipping and tripping hazards, as well as proper protective equipment. Be cautious and mindful of your surroundings. You should also consider pre-season testing before starting a sport.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Avoid Doing If I Have A Concussion?
Decrease your use of TV, cell phones, computers, tablets, video games, homework, school or work participation until symptoms of the concussion subside. Your visual system takes on 70% of your brain’s energy, and your brain needs all the energy it can get to heal. The blue light on any digital screen can add further strain to your eyes and brain.
Blue light blocking glasses would be helpful during this initial phase should any need for limited use of computers, cell phones, or tablets.
No exertional activities while you have symptoms – i.e. no running, biking, weight training, swimming, etc.
Concussion and Sleep. Is It True I Can’t Go To Sleep?
No! You can sleep following a concussion, as rest is part of recovery but you should be checked on every 2-3 hours for the first couple of days following the injury.
What Am I Allowed To Do With A Concussion?
Light/short bouts of walking should be encouraged – sunglasses should be used should this activity take place outside (10-15 minutes or until symptoms increase).
You can continue to listen to music or audiobooks as tolerated.
What Is Second Impact Syndrome?
Second Impact Syndrome is when a person suffers a second concussion before the first concussion has healed. This is even more important in persons under 25 years old as their brain is still developing and more easily re-injured and more vulnerable. If you return to a sport or activity too soon or suffer a second concussion a different way while still going through the healing from the first concussion, you are at risk of coma and possible death. It is particularly important that the return to a sport and activity in youths be managed responsibly by experienced health care providers.
Can A Concussion Last Longer Than 1 To 3 months?
Yes! This is known as Post-Concussive Syndrome or Post-Concussion Syndrome. This can present as persistent headaches, ringing in the ears, irritability and mood changes, anxiety, fatigue, vertigo or dizziness, light or sound sensitivity, vision issues, etc. At this point, management and treatment get more complicated and you may need a team comprised of a number of health care providers.
How Many Concussions Are Too Many?
Unfortunately, there is no agreed-upon number of concussions which is deemed too many. However, the more concussions you suffer, the more difficult recovery from each one may become. Over time, the effects of concussions may become additive and lead to certain degenerative processes within the brain. There have been a number of boxers, NFL, and NHL athletes who have shown detrimental changes in their brains with repeated head injuries. The best solution is PREVENTION.
What Is Pre-Season Concussion Testing?
Pre-season screenings are comprised of neck, balance, visual, and cognitive screenings that are done on athletes before their season begins. This establishes a baseline of functioning for that athlete which will be compared against should a concussion be suspected; the same tests are then repeated on a person. They can be used to detect a subtle concussion as well as to help guide and gauge recovery from concussion.