A concussion is a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. After a concussion some people lose consciousness or are “knocked out” for a short time, but not always. Concussions might also be referred to as a "mild traumatic brain injury" or a “closed head injury.”
Because the brain is very complex, every brain injury is different. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not show up for days or weeks after the concussion. Sometimes the injury makes it hard for people to recognize or to admit that they are having problems. The signs of concussion can be subtle. Early on, problems may be missed by patients, family members, and doctors. People may look fine even though they’re acting or feeling differently.
Most people with mild TBIs recover fully, but it can take time. Some symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer. In general, recovery is slower in older people. Also, people who have had one or more concussions in the past may find that it takes longer to recover from their current injury.
Concussion Symptoms for People of All Ages
- Low-grade headaches that won’t go away
- Having more trouble than usual:
- Remembering things
- Paying attention or concentrating
- Organizing daily tasks
- Making decisions and solving problems
- Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
- Getting lost or easily confused
- Neck pain
- Feeling tired all the time, lack of energy
- Change in sleeping pattern:
- Sleeping for much longer periods of time than before injury
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Loss of balance, feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Increased sensitivity to:
- Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
- Ringing in the ears
- Change in sexual drive
- Mood changes:
- Feeling sad, anxious, or listless
- Becoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reason
- Lack of motivation
Tips for Healing After a Concussion — Adults
- Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day.
- Return to your normal activities gradually, not all at once.
- Avoid activities that could lead to a second brain injury, such as contact or recreational sports, until your doctor says you are well enough to take part in these activities.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive a car, ride a bike, or operate heavy equipment because your ability to react may be slower after a brain injury.
- Talk with your doctor about when you can return to work or school. Ask your doctor about ways to help your employer or teacher understand what has happened to you.
- Consider talking with your employer about returning to work gradually and changing your work activities until you recover.
- Take only those drugs that your doctor has approved.
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages until your doctor says you are well enough to do so. Alcohol and certain other drugs may slow your recovery and can put you at risk of further injury.
- If it’s harder than usual to remember things, write them down.
- If you’re easily distracted, try to do one thing at a time. For example, don’t try to watch TV while fixing dinner.
- Consult with family members or close friends when making important decisions.
- Don’t neglect your basic needs such as eating well and getting enough rest.
Concussion Symptoms in Children
Young children's head sizes are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their body. As children reach adolescence, they experience rapid height and weight growth. Both of these factors make children more prone to accidents than adults. It is often harder for young children to let others know how they are feeling.
Concussion symptoms in children may include:
- Listlessness, tiring easily
- Irritability, crankiness
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns
- Change in the way they play
- Change in the way they perform or act at school
- Lack of interest in favorite toys
- Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
- Loss of balance, unsteady walking
- Confusion or if the child is easily distracted and cannot do normal activities
- Stares blankly
- Delayed answering of questions
- Slurred speech
- Stumbling or clumsiness, uncoordinated or cannot walk a straight line
- Cries very easily or becomes angry easily or exhibits extreme emotions
- Problem with memory, repeats self, repeatedly asks questions, unable to recall words or objects
- Loss of consciousness
Tips for Healing After Concussion — Children
Parents and caretakers of children who have had a concussion can help them heal by:
- Having the child get plenty of rest.
- Making sure the child avoids activities that could result in a second blow or jolt to the head — such as riding a bicycle, playing sports, or climbing playground equipment — until the doctor says the child is well enough to take part in these activities.
- Giving the child only those drugs that the doctor has approved.
- Talking with the doctor about when the child should return to school and other activities and how to deal with the challenges the child may face.
- Sharing information about concussion with teachers, counselors, babysitters, coaches, and others who interact with the child so they can understand what has happened and help meet the child’s needs.
Call the doctor or EMT immediately if any of following symptoms appear:
- A headache that will not go away and is severe
- Not waking up; very sleepy
- Repeated vomiting
- Personality change
- Loss of coordination
- Weakness in arms or legs
- Ringing in ears
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
When in doubt it's always better to have an experienced medical professional who understands traumatic brain injury check out the injured person. Our article on when to go the hospital gives good advice for when it's appropriate to seek medical advice.
The best way to stop a concussion is through prevention. Avoid dangerous activities and wear appropriate safety gear when participating in sports and recreational activities.
For more information on concussion, go here.
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