Concussions have made big news in recent months. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July of this year analyzed the brains of former NFL players. The results were shocking. Scientists reported that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in 110 of 111 of the brains of the players that were studied.
CTE is a result of repeated head trauma or chronic concussions. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or concussions occur when the brain, which is usually suspended in a liquid cushion inside the skull, strikes the side of the hard skull, causing a disruption of the neuron signaling process in the brain. Concussions can happen in a car accident, a sporting activity, or a fall, however, you don’t need to hit your head to have a concussion. A concussion can happen if you shake your head too hard, or if you have a hard jolt to the body causing the brain to knock against the skull. Missing the signs of a concussion can result in further damage. So how do you know if you have a concussion?
Here are seven signs that you might have a concussion:
The symptoms listed above can occur immediately after the concussion, or may be noticed in the days and weeks following the injury. But according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) there are a few symptoms to watch for that could be life threatening and require immediate medical attention from a medical professional.
These signs may be difficult to see in very small children, so the CDC adds two additional warning signs in infants and small children. In addition to the above symptoms, take your child to the emergency room immediately if they will not eat or nurse, or if they will not stop crying.
If you go to the emergency room or to the doctor’s office for a concussion, the doctor will diagnose the concussion first by asking questions about the injury. The doctor will perform a physical exam, and may order a CT scan or an MRI scan to get more information about the injury and to check for more serious damage. The doctor may also check your eyes, looking for light sensitivity, the way your eyes move, or a difference in the size of your pupils.
If a serious injury or bleeding in the brain is detected on a CT or MRI scan, surgery might be required. However, most concussions are treated with rest and over-the-counter pain medication for headaches. Doctors recommend that patients don’t drive for a period of time, and that they avoid any strenuous activity, sports, watching TV, or time on the computer. The doctor may also recommend that you avoid alcohol which can slow the healing process. School-aged children may not be able to attend school, or may attend on a limited basis in order to give the brain time to heal. You may not be able to go back to work right away. These restrictions may continue for just a few days, or may be required for weeks or months if the concussion is not healing.
Although anyone can suffer from a concussion, athletes seem to be particularly prone to concussion, especially in sports like football and lacrosse. Schools are particularly careful with head injuries, and usually require a doctor’s approval before a middle or high school athlete can continue on the field. The CDC has a series of guidelines for TBI and MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) that help doctors know when a patient is able to participate in sports, school or work again. The “Return to Play” guidelines help parents and medical professionals determine whether the athlete is healed enough to return to playing sports. There are five steps to return the athlete to play activities. The trainer or medical professional should gradually work the athlete through these steps with the goal of getting back to a competitive level. The CDC emphasizes that the younger the child, the more conservative the steps should be, and more time should be taken with each step.
It is important to note that if the symptoms of a concussion have not cleared up for several months, the patient may be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. The symptoms are similar to the initial diagnosis of concussion, however they do not go away quickly. An athlete with post-concussion syndrome should not go back to sports competition until the symptoms disappear completely.
The NFL studies have shown us that repeated concussions can have devastating effects, causing personality changes, inability to work, think clearly or carry out the activities of daily life. It is important that you take the proper precautions to prevent any kind of TBI and to get treatment if you suspect a concussion. Wear a helmet, and make sure your kids and friends wear helmets as well. Know the signs of a concussion, and get medical help right away following an injury.
Interested in alternative treatment choices for concussion? Check out How Does Cannabis & CBD Provide Relief to Concussions.