A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, but can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance, and coordination.
Although concussions usually are caused by a blow to the head, they can also occur when the head and upper body are violently shaken. These injuries can cause a loss of consciousness, but most concussions do not. Because of this, some people have concussions and don’t realize it.
Concussions are common, particularly if you play a contact sport, such as football. But every concussion injures your brain to some extent. This injury needs time and rest to heal properly. Luckily, most concussive traumatic brain injuries are mild, and people usually recover fully.
The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms can last for days, weeks, or even longer.
The most common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury are headache, amnesia, and confusion. The amnesia, which may or may not be preceded by a loss of consciousness, almost always involves the loss of memory of the impact that caused the concussion.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion:
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
- Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
- Dizziness or “seeing stars”
- Ringing in the ears
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
Some symptoms of concussions may be immediate or
delayed in onset by hours or days after injury:
- Concentration and memory complaints
- Irritability and other personality changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychological adjustment problems and depression
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Disorders of taste and smell
Head trauma is very common in young children. However, concussions can be difficult to recognize in infants and toddlers because they can’t readily communicate how they feel. Nonverbal clues of a concussion may include:
- Listlessness, tiring easily
- Loss of balance, unsteady walking
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns
- Lack of interest in favorite toys
- Irritability, crankiness
See a doctor within one to two days if you or your child experiences a head injury, even if emergency care isn’t required.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call your child’s doctor for advice if your child receives anything more than a light bump on the head. If your child remains alert, moves normally, and responds to you, the injury is probably mild and usually doesn’t need further testing. In this case, if your child wants to nap, it’s okay to let them sleep. If worrisome signs develop later, seek emergency care.
Seek emergency care for a child who experiences a head
- Confusion or disorientation
- A headache that gets worse over time
- Lasting or recurrent dizziness
- Slurred speech or other changes in speech
- Large head bumps or bruises on areas other than the forehead, especially in infants under 12 months of age
- Changes in breathing pattern
- Changes in his or her behavior, including irritability or fussiness
- Blood or fluid discharge from the nose or ears
- Changes in physical coordination, including stumbling or clumsiness
- Vision or eye disturbances, including pupils that are bigger than normal (dilated pupils) or pupils of unequal sizes
Seek emergency care for anyone who experiences a
head injury and:
- A loss of consciousness lasting more than a minute
- Obvious difficulty with mental function or physical coordination
- Repeated vomiting
- Symptoms that worsen over time
No one should return to play or vigorous activity while signs or symptoms of a concussion are present. Experts recommend that an athlete with a suspected concussion not return to play until he or she has been medically evaluated. Experts also recommend that child and adolescent athletes with a concussion not return to play on the same day as the injury.
Your brain has the consistency of gelatin. It’s cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebro-spinal fluid that it floats in, inside your skull. A violent blow to your head and neck or upper body can cause your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner wall of your skull. Sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head — resulting from events such as a car crash or being violently shaken (shaken baby syndrome) — can also cause brain injury.
These injuries affect brain function, usually for a brief period, resulting in signs and symptoms of concussion. A brain injury of this sort may even lead to bleeding in or around your brain, causing symptoms such as prolonged drowsiness and confusion that may develop right away or even later. Such bleeding in your brain can be fatal. That’s why anyone who experiences a brain injury needs to be monitored in the hours afterward and receive emergency care if symptoms worsen.
The following tips may help you to prevent or minimize your risk of head injury:
Wear appropriate protective gear during sports and other recreational activities. Always use the appropriate protective gear for any sport you or your child undertakes. Make sure the equipment fits properly, is well maintained, and worn correctly. Follow the rules of the game and practice good sportsmanship. When bicycling, motorcycling, snowboarding, or engaging in any recreational activity that may result in head injury, wear protective headgear.
Buckle your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt may prevent serious injury, including an injury to your head, during a traffic accident.
Make your home safe. Keep your home well lit and your floors free of clutter — meaning anything that might cause you to trip and fall. Falls around the home are the leading cause of head injury for infants, toddlers, and older adults.
Protect your children. To help lessen the risk of head injuries to your children, pad countertops and edges of tables, block off stairways, and install window guards. Don’t let your children play sports that aren’t suitable for their ages.
Use caution in and around swimming areas. Don’t dive into water less than 9 feet (3 meters) deep. Read and follow posted safety rules at water parks and swimming pools.