Concussion symptoms can linger for weeks, especially in seniors, teens, and young children. Be prepared for changes in your sleep and energy. Learn more.
Any knock of the head can be scary, but most people recover well.
What is a concussion?
The very term concussion sounds dire. It’s a brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or any event that makes the head move rapidly back and forth. It can occur during a car crash, playing sports, or even simply when you fall. If your head and upper body are shaken, your brain may be jolted inside your skull.
Recovery times vary all over the map. These types of injuries — also called a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) — aren’t rare. But there is no single test to see how you’ve been affected and what you can expect.
How to tell if you have a concussion
You can’t, for sure. A doctor will do that for you. But the best rule is to get to a doctor quickly if you’re in doubt. About five percent of people with concussion symptoms develop a serious blot clot or bleeding in the brain, which should be treated immediately.
Concussions symptoms include:
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination and balance
- Vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Problems with memory and concentration
You might be inclined to shoo away people who hover over you after a fall or injury. But observers should take action. You may well not realize you’ve been hurt and your judgment won’t be the best.
The people helping you should take you to an emergency room if you lose consciousness even just briefly. The same is true if you appear conscious but look drowsy. If you cannot recognize people, become increasingly confused or agitated, experience seizures, or have an enlarged pupil in one eye, you need immediate attention.
Small children could suffer a concussion after falling, even just from a bed or chair. They should see a doctor if you notice any swelling, or if the child doesn’t return to normal behavior quickly.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Some people just have a headache or dizziness, and perhaps some nausea and balance problems, for a day or so — and go back to normal. The concussion symptoms described above are all possible.
Later on, you might have difficulty thinking clearly, fuzzy or blurry vision, and feel slowed down. You might be irritable and sleep more than usual. Some people have trouble falling asleep and end up sleeping less than usual. You might become anxious.
Sometimes signs of a concussion are obvious and immediate. Other people seem fine, but then symptoms show up weeks or even months later. You might not notice the problems but hear complaints from other people.
In a small study with 136 teenagers treated for concussion, about 20 percent had suffered a fall, and about 15 percent were injured playing hockey or soccer. Football injuries were about half as common. A month to three months after the injury, the most common persistent symptoms were fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, and difficulty concentration. If the problem lasted, some patients became more anxious and likely to feel nausea over time.
How to treat a concussion
Depending on your symptoms, your age, and the severity of your injury, you may be given some tests. These include a basic neurological exam in the ER to check hearing and speech, vision, coordination and balance, and mood and nerve function. A CT scan will look for bleeding or swelling in your brain. An MRI scan provides more detailed pictures of your brain. You can still have a concussion even though nothing shows up on these scans.
The best way to treat a concussion is to rest. Your brain will need to heal even after you don’t notice symptoms.
Rest means doing as little as possible. Try not to read, watch TV, text, email, or even listen to music. If your symptoms persist, speak to a specialist in brain injuries.
If symptoms last, talk to your doctor and keep building rest periods into your days.
How long does a concussion last?
It’s standard for symptoms of a concussion to last two weeks. They rarely go on beyond a few months. Some people end up with lingering problems. So the real answer is you can’t know for sure what will happen in your case.
August 17, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN