Concussion: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment


What Is Concussion?

“Concussion” comes from the Latin word, “concutere” which means to shake violently. It is the most common but also the least serious type of brain injury that affects the function of the brain. It is mainly caused by a strong blow to the head, causing the head to forcefully jerk backward, forwards, or to the side.

Concussions bruise and stretch the nerves and blood vessels; they also cause chemical changes in the brain, resulting in a temporary loss of normal brain function. Single concussion will, most times, not cause permanent changes to the brain, but one that is consistent over a lifetime can lead to structural changes in the brain. Concussions are usually not life-threatening, however, the effects include headaches, and issues with concentration, balance, memory, and coordination, which can be serious and last for days, weeks, or more.

Types of Concussion

The ranking of the severity of concussions is most times based on things like loss of equilibrium, loss of consciousness, and amnesia. Here are three grades of concussion:

Grade 1 Concussion

In this grade, it is mild and comes with symptoms that last less than 15 minutes. This doesn’t involve one losing their consciousness.

Grade 2 Concussion

This is on a moderate level, and symptoms here last longer than 15 minutes. Like grade 1, this too does not lead to loss of consciousness.

Grade 3 Concussion

This is the severe grade, and the sufferer is most likely to lose consciousness, but sometimes, it only lasts for a few seconds.

Causes of Concussion

headacheThe brain is soft and fragile and is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid that acts as a cushion between it and the hard protective exterior, which is the skull. A concussion happens when the brain twists or bounces inside the skull or experiences a whiplash-type back and forth movement that causes it to collide with the inside of the skull. The movement makes brain cells stretch and damage, thus bringing chemical changes in the brain.

Falls, sports injuries, and motor vehicle accidents are the common causes of concussions. In children, most concussions happen on the playground while playing sports such as soccer, football, basketball, or wrestling.

Risk Factors of Concussion

  • Falls, mostly in young children usually ages 4 and older adults
  • Being involved in a pedestrian or bicycle accident
  • Had a previous concussion
  • Being involved in a motor collision
  • Involving oneself in high-risk sports such as hockey, rugby, boxing, soccer, football, and other contact sports.
  • Being in the military and exposed to explosive devices
  • Physical abuse

Symptoms of Concussion

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Problems balance which is as a result of dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sensitive to light and noise
  • Depression or sadness
  • Difficulty understanding or concentrating
  • Difficulty paying attention, memory loss.
  • Changes in sleep pattern which involves sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Feeling tired or drowsy
  • Being anxious, nervous, and irritable

In infants and toddlers, it can be difficult to diagnose because they can’t say how they feel. However, pay attention and look for these signs of concussion in children:

  • Vomiting
  • Bumps on the head
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys
  • Rejecting food
  • Blank stare
  • Being cranky and irritable
  • Change in sleep pattern
  • More fussy than usual and will not stop crying even though the child has been comforted

When to See a Doctor for Concussion

These are symptoms of concussion that are of great concern and require a visit to the doctor:

  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • A pale appearance for longer than an hour
  • Loss of consciousness which lasts a minute or more
  • Loss of balance, severe dizziness, or problems with walking
  • Numbness in arms or legs
  • Increasing confusion, and inability to recognize people or places
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme drowsiness, fainting, and difficulty waking from sleep
  • Bloody discharge from the ears
  • Unusual irritable behavior

Also, seek emergency care if your infant develops these symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Bloody discharge from the eyes, ears, and nose
  • Swelling of the head
  • Difficulty waking from sleep

How to Diagnose Concussions

A doctor may perform or recommend these types of tests to evaluate the sufferer’s symptoms.

Neurological Examination

In this type of examination or testing, the doctor will ask detailed questions about the injury. The doctor will check:

  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Balance
  • Strength and sensation
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes

Cognitive Testing

The doctor will conduct various tests to evaluate your cognitive or thinking skills during a neurological examination. This testing will evaluate some factors such as concentration, memory, and ability to remember information.

Imaging Tests

This test is recommended for people who have symptoms such as severe headaches, repeated vomiting, and seizures. Brain imaging tests will help determine if the injury is serious, and what caused the bleeding or swelling in the skull.

Cranial Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

This is the standard test in adults that will assess the brain immediately after the injury. A CT scan uses various X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of the brain and skull. It is also used for children, but it depends on the type of injury or signs of a skull fracture. Another test such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used to identify changes in the brain or to diagnose complications that occur after a concussion.

Treatment Options for Concussion

Pain Relief

SchizophreniaTo help manage pains that come as a result of headaches after a concussion, pain relief such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) is recommended. Medications such as aspirin and Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) should be avoided because they can increase the risk of bleeding.

Physical Rest and Mental Rest

After the first few days of a concussion, one is required to rest appropriately to allow the brain to recover. Engaging in activities that require mental concentration, such as doing schoolwork, playing video games, watching TV, and reading may not be advised, to reduce the risk of symptoms worsening. Also, physical activities like sports should be avoided to enable quick recovery.

How to Prevent Concussion

These are some preventive measures that you can take to reduce the possibility of a serious brain injury.

Wear Protective Gear

You’re advised to wear protective gear during sports and other recreational activities; ensure the equipment you wear is also comfortable and ideal for the sports that you do. Be sure to follow the rules of the game. When involving yourself in any contact sport like bicycling and snowboarding, ensure you wear protective headgear.

Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly will help strengthen leg muscles and improve balance.

Complications of Concussion

  • Brain injuries from multiple TBIs
  • Post-traumatic headaches that may last for a few months
  • Post-traumatic dizziness that could last several months
  • Post-concussion syndrome may cause you to experience concussion symptoms for weeks or months.

Now that you Know…

Although a concussion is not life-threatening, it can lead to serious brain injury if it is not prevented or treated appropriately. Most people may fully recover from a concussion, but can take weeks or months for symptoms to go away. Some people also experience physical, mental, and emotional changes that are long-lasting. As much as possible, you should avoid repeated concussions because they can increase the chances of getting permanent brain damage. Be particularly mindful of children and take immediate actions when things seem to go wrong.