Health Matters

Understanding Concussion

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain gets shaken forcefully enough to collide with the skull. People can go for hours or days after an impact to the head before concussion symptoms appear. Regardless of when symptoms manifest, anyone suspected of having a concussion should be assessed immediately by a medical professional, and a confirmed concussion should always be taken seriously and treated appropriately.

Signs and Symptoms

Headache is the most commonly reported concussion symptom, followed by “mental fogginess,” or delayed or slowed mental processing. Other common symptoms may include the following:

•   Confusion

•   Difficulty tracking a moving object with the eyes

•   Dizziness

•   Memory loss

•   Nausea

•   Ringing in the ears

•   Sensitivity to light and/or loud noises

Assessing and Treating the Patient

Even though no universal standard for initial concussion diagnosis exists, doctors and athletic trainers still try to get some sense, as soon as possible after the impact, of how serious a potential concussion might be. To do so, they may ask patients about any headache symptoms, test their memory by asking them to state their address, or perhaps have them track a pointer or finger with their eyes. However, since concussion symptoms don’t always show up immediately after an impact, proceeding with caution is crucial.

Under no circumstance should someone suspected of having a concussion be allowed to return to a sporting event or any other activity involving a risk of reinjuring the brain, before being cleared of symptoms.

Repeat concussion injuries—even those occurring years apart—seem to make a person more susceptible to new concussions, which can result in permanent brain damage and take a devastating toll later in life. There is even evidence that repeated concussions may contribute to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease; Alzheimer’s disease; and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Rest is typically the primary mode of treatment for concussions, with other options available based upon a patient’s specific symptoms—for example, wearing sunglasses for sensitivity to light or wearing ear plugs for sensitivity to sound.

Sleep is also very important in helping the brain heal. If a person who has suffered concussion has difficulty sleeping, medications can be prescribed to help him or her get the proper amount of rest.

Following a concussion, some people experience inner-ear problems that affect their balance, or they may experience problems with vision, including tracking difficulties or issues with peripheral vision. In such situations, physical therapy often can help.

If there is the least concern that someone has had a concussion, he or she should be seen by a medical provider as soon as possible.

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