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 may include:
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
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
Sensitivity to light and noise
Psychological adjustment problems and depression
Disorders of taste and smell
Your brain has the consistency of gelatin. It's cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebrospinal 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) — also can 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.
Treatment & Drugs
Rest is the best way to allow your brain to recover from a concussion. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends both physical and mental rest for children. This means avoiding general physical exertion as well as activities that require mental concentration, such as playing video games, watching TV, texting or using a computer. School workloads should also be temporarily reduced.
For headaches, use acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Avoid other pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and aspirin, as there's a possibility these medications may increase the risk of bleeding.
If you or your child sustained a concussion while playing competitive sports, ask your doctor or your child's doctor when it is safe to return to play. Resuming sports too soon increases the risk of a second concussion and of lasting, potentially fatal brain injury.
No one should return to play or vigorous activity while signs or symptoms of a concussion are present. Experts recommend that children and adolescents not return to play on the same day as the injury.