Ready for a staggering statistic? It’s estimated that each year 2.8 million people sustain some type of traumatic brain injury in the United States, according to a study conducted between 2007 and 2013. Many of these types of injuries are severe and can have long-lasting mental or physical effects even after they’ve healed.
A concussion may seem somewhat commonplace, but it can be far more traumatic if you don’t take care of it afterward. Unfortunately, even those who have suffered concussions don’t always know the extent of the damage. We’ve compiled these important symptoms of concussions that you should be wary of if you or someone you know has hit their head.
Sudden Head Blow
Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head. Now, because our brains are basically the consistency of gelatin, it means that anything that violently slams them into our skulls can damage them, either slightly or severely. Our brains are cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull. Sometimes this fluid protects the brain from a concussion, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Concussions are a fairly common occurrence in some lines of work, particularly in the world of sports. Full contact sports like football, mixed martial arts, boxing and hockey are some examples of sports careers that result in players receiving at least one concussion in their careers. Most players will recover fairly quickly from such injuries, however.
Though many concussions are severe enough to cause us to lose consciousness, some do not. It is this feature of concussions that makes them particularly dangerous because it is possible that someone may not realize they’ve had one. Most of the time, damage from a concussion will heal naturally, but precautions must still be taken.
Concussions may be the most apparent brain injury one can think of, but the symptoms can sometimes be so subtle that they go unnoticed. In other words, some symptoms are so common as to appear to not be symptoms at all, and they may not arise initially following the injury itself. Many of them can last for days, weeks, or even longer if not addressed right away.
It will come as no surprise that one of the first symptoms of a sudden and violent blow to the head is often a persistent headache. It can be as simple as a tension headache, or something much more similar to a migraine. Regardless of the severity, these headaches should lessen over time and can be treated with medication. If they don’t clear up, or if they worsen over time, then medical help should be sought out.
Many times, the direct result of a concussion will be that the person is knocked unconscious. This is to be expected, considering that their very mushy brain has just been slammed against the inside of the skull. One does not necessarily lose consciousness after a concussion, but if it does occur it is usually only temporary.
Fatigue is also a common sign of a concussion, which is ironic because one of the worse things you can do for a person with a concussion is to let them fall asleep right away. Also, despite the fact that it’s a common symptom, any situation in which a person with a traumatic head injury can’t seem to stay awake could be a sign of serious damage.
Even if a person isn’t feeling particularly sleepy as a result of their concussion, they might certainly feel dizzy. They might also experience a ringing sound in their ears or “see stars.” If a person experiences any of these symptoms, have them sit down for a bit to gather their wits about them. If their dizziness persists into something worse, it might mean they need to see a doctor.
Some concussion victims find that they are very confused afterward. They may feel as if they are in a fog or unable to focus. This is especially dangerous when one sustains a concussion with no one else around. If you are alone and confused after hitting your head, you may not, but should, have the presence of mind to avoid sleeping or even see a doctor.
Many who sustain a concussion don’t initially remember what happened immediately prior to the injury. Frankly, when your brain bumps around in your head, its expected that your memory might be a little hazy. Usually this memory fog will dissipate after a short time, it’s only when such symptoms reappear over time that one might worry.
Long term symptoms of a more serious concussion can involve persistent amnesia and memory gaps, as well as problems with concentration. These changes won’t be apparent until several days after the injury, but they are still worth taking into consideration.
Nausea and Vomiting
It may seem unusual but it’s actually perfectly normal for people with concussions to feel nauseous at the onset of the injury. This feeling may persist as well, becoming either more or less severe as time goes on. In the worst cases, the injury can make the person increasingly sick to the point of them having to vomit.
These symptoms may be signs of underlying issues rather than just the result of the dizzying, perception-altering effects of the concussion. Some of these issues could be related to otherwise unknown GI causes or abdominal injuries that may want to be similarly investigated after the cause of the head injury is determined.
There are a number of more serious symptoms that come alone with more severe concussions as well. One of them, slurred speech, is only really noticeable when the person is conscious and with someone. The person may sound as if they are highly intoxicated and can be a sign that the brain injury was worse than expected.
If the person is slurring or seems delayed in their responses when questioned, it can be indicative of unexpected damage from the concussion. This doesn’t simply refer to a person’s response to vocal stimuli, it can also mean their responses to light, sound, touch, etc.
Another fairly common symptom of a concussion is that the victim may seem particularly sensitive to bright lights and loud noises. Light tracking and a test of pupil dilation can determine the extent of this light sensitivity. If they are feeling oversensitive, it’s best to lower the lights or allow the victim to rest in the dark, but not to let them fall sleep directly following the accident.
Odd Scents in the Air
In addition to their sense of sight and hearing, those with more severe concussions might notice short term or in some cases, even long term changes to the way they smell certain things. They might smell burning toast or something coppery.
The affected person might even notice strange tastes in their mouth that no one else would otherwise be able to discern. It can be a similarly metallic or a burned taste just as in the scents.These are examples of common cases, of course, and there are worse symptoms out there.
Seizures or Convulsions
All of these pale in comparison to some of the more troubling physical and mental symptoms of a concussion. Even a simple concussion can trigger seizures or convulsions in a victim. Whether these seizures only happen once, or if they persist over time, it is prudent for anyone with a traumatic head injury to investigate them with the help of their doctor.
A person who suffers a serious concussion may find that they experience a certain amount of irritability in the short term. This irritability can be a portent of other, more serious personality changes to come, ranging from further malaise and short-temper to those as serious as full-on depression. In times like these, medication might have to be introduced to regulate these psychological symptoms.
Prone to Concussions
Concussions are fairly common in younger children like infants and toddlers, who spend much of their time walking around like drunken sailors and not watching where they’re going. They are also pretty common in older kids, who either don’t wear protective helmets when they ride a bicycle or end up roughhousing a little too much. Their symptoms are slightly different.
Children with Symptoms
Despite their obvious penchant for it, concussions can be difficult to recognize in young children. Unlike adults, infants and toddlers can’t really describe how they feel. Therefore it’s important to watch for signs. And there are plenty of them that would give even the most inattentive parents cause for concern.
Children are especially sensitive to concussions and exhibit a number of symptoms which one might not be able to detect at first. After all, especially young children aren’t exactly adept at walking quite yet to begin with. Nevertheless, any frequent loss of balance following an injury should be a clear indication.
If a child who has been injured appears to be listless or lacking in the exuberance they once exhibited, it would be a good idea to have them checked out for any sort of traumatic brain injury. Listlessness is a sure sign that something might be wrong.
Children are already possessed of pretty crazy mood swings. They can go from laughing and happy to crying uncontrollably in the very next moment. If you notice a child is abnormally cranky or is crying excessively, then it may be a good idea to check them for any lumps or bumps.
If a child seems to show a lack of interest in their favorite toys, games, or heaven forbid, electronic devices, it may be a sign of something wrong. The same holds true if attempts to engage them in play behavior winds up being unsuccessful.
New parents know all too well that children rarely sleep all the way through the night, this is especially true of younger children like babies and toddlers. If a potentially injured child seems to be sleeping more or sleeping less than they normally do, it may be an indication of a concussion.
Kids never seem to want to eat the things we prefer they would. It’s not unusual for children to avoid eating fruits, vegetables, and unfamiliar foods. However, if your child doesn’t want to eat chicken nuggets, cookies, or mac n’ cheese following a head bump, it might be a good indication something’s up.
If your child has a clear bump or bruise on their head that causes them to cry out when you touch it, that’s not unusual. That said, if they cry when their head is moved or seem inconsolable following an accident, it might be prudent to take the child to the doctor or the emergency room as soon as possible.
In uninjured people, pupils should dilate consensually and be of equal size. If a person or child is suffering from a concussion though, the pupils may seem to be unequal sizes or else dilate unevenly. This is a serious and not always overt sign of a potentially serious injury.
Another way to see if the eyes are working properly after an injury is to try and get the injured person to track the movement of an object or a light. You can also ask them to reach out and touch the object or otherwise indicate where it is. If they can’t seek medical advice.
Simply knowing and recognizing the symptoms is only the first step in assessing how much danger someone might be in. Ultimately, it comes down to knowing when you should take someone to the doctor and when something more drastic has to be done. No one wants to go to the hospital for no reason.
Doctors use a sort of grading system called the Glasgow Coma Scale for practically diagnosing the severity of a concussion or telling what neurological state someone is in. This is not something that one can do without training, however, so if you suspect someone is severely concussed, just call in the professionals.
Even if it doesn’t seem like the victim of a concussion needs to see a doctor or if they have made it clear they don’t wish to, it’s important to at least touch base within one or two days with a physician just in case. This is especially true for children, including those who might not exhibit symptoms. They may ultimately be fine, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
If a concussion is not addressed right away, this type of injury could cause bleeding in and around the brain, which can often be fatal. It can also lead to serious long-term physiological and physical effects. The best way to help someone with a concussion, including yourself, is to monitor them and make sure that if symptoms persist, you seek medical attention.
In most people, the perceptible symptoms of a concussion usually resolve themselves in about two weeks. The after-effects of a concussion can be severe though, and the best way to recover is to rest one’s brain during recovery. This includes avoiding computers or smartphones as well.
Above all else, remember to get or allow for long periods of rest when suffering a concussion. Once the initial period of worry is over, sleep can be one of the most effective ways to achieve this. Also, remember to take mental breaks during work and school hours and refrain from sporting activities.
Post Concussion Syndrome
It’s rare, but some people who suffer concussions can develop something known as Post-concussion syndrome or PCS. Those with the condition continue to experience symptoms related to their concussions for weeks. The best way to relieve this is, again, long periods of rest following injury.