A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can occur during any sort of activity in which a person sustains a hit to the head or a fall or blow that jars or shakes the brain within the skull. Car, bike, skateboard, playground and horseback riding accidents; and falls and blows during sports, such as football, soccer, hockey and lacrosse are just some of the situations that can result in concussions. Seat belts and helmets go a long way toward helping us stay safe from brain injuries but aren’t always enough.
Any kind of brain injury is serious. Most concussions will heal completely, but some can cause lasting brain impairment, including epilepsy, and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In very rare cases, concussions can even be fatal.
The brain is surrounded by spinal fluid that normally acts as a cushion. But a hit or a jolt can hinder the fluid’s protective capacity, causing the soft brain to crash into the very hard skull. Sometimes concussions are obvious—losing consciousness or blatant memory loss right after an incident are red flags. It’s not always that clear, though.
That’s why it is critical that folks know the signs and symptoms and see a health care professional right away if a concussion is suspected. And don’t just assume that a coach will realize there’s a problem. Concussion symptoms may be mild at first or not even appear until several hours or longer after an incident.
Here’s what to look for after a hit, fall or jolt:
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to noise/light
- Confusion/ trouble concentrating
- Mood/behavior/personality changes
- Memory loss
- Changes in sleep patterns
Very young children can have the same symptoms, but recognizing them in a pre-verbal little one can be difficult. Watch for excessive crying and temper tantrums, loss of interest in play, changes in nursing/eating/sleeping patterns, loss of new skills (such as using the toilet) and loss of balance or trouble walking.
Concussion symptoms run from mild to severe and can last for hours, days or even months. With lots of rest, most people will fully recover, but if the concussion goes undiagnosed, there is a greater risk for lasting impairment and repeat concussions, which can be deadly.
So keep a close eye on loved ones after a fall or blow, and if any symptoms occur, see a doctor.