What is concussion?
Concussion is an injury to the brain, resulting in a disturbance of brain function. It causes short-lived neurological impairment and the symptoms may evolve over the hours or days following the injury.
What are the signs and symptoms?
There are many symptoms of concussion, the presence of one or more of the following may be a sign:
- Mental clouding, confusion, or feeling slowed down
- Visual problems
- Nausea or vomiting
- Drowsiness/feeling like ‘in a fog’/difficulty concentrating
- Feeling of pressure in head
- Sensitivity to light or noise
These symptoms may appear immediately, whilst some may be delayed for hours or days after injury, such as:
- Concentration and memory complaints
- Irritability and other personality changes
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychological adjustment problems and depression
- Disorders of taste and smell
What are the causes?
Concussion is caused by head injury, such as a direct blow to the head. It can also occur when a blow to another part of the body results in rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head e.g. whiplash injuries.
How is it diagnosed?
During an evaluation, the doctor will ask questions about the injury and how it occurred, how severe the force was and whether there was loss of consciousness or memory loss after the blow. It is especially important that the doctor is also made aware of any previous concussions. A neurological exam will then test for balance, coordination, vision, hearing, and reflexes. A brain scan is only needed to exclude bleeding around or in the brain.
How is it treated?
The key to healing from a concussion is complete rest. This includes not just physical rest, but mental rest. This means avoiding physical activities such as running, cycling, swimming, or physical work activities and cognitive activities such as school work, homework, reading, television, or video games. Repeated concussions that are not able to heal fully make recovery longer and may cause long-term problems, such as learning difficulties or chronic headaches. Repeat concussions can also cause permanent brain damage and even death.
How can it be prevented?
Not every concussion can be prevented, but helmets, mouthguards, and other safety gear can reduce the risk of a brain injury.