Could it be a concussion?
Back in the day, when you fell and bumped your head, you got up and got back to it. Today, doctors know much more about what a blow to the head actually does to the brain — and why it should be taken seriously.
According to Tad Seifert, M.D., concussion and headache specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute, even the smallest head injuries can be serious. A “ding,” “getting your bell rung” or what seems like a mild bump or blow can lead to severe complications if not properly cared for.
“A concussion truly is a brain injury — a mild traumatic brain injury,” Dr. Seifert said. “A concussion occurs when a direct blow to the head or body causes a sudden reverberation, or movement, of the brain inside the skull. This damages brain cells, causing the brain to function abnormally.” How do you know if someone has a concussion? Signs may be subtle or dramatic, and don’t always involve loss of consciousness.
Signs of concussion
- Neck pain
- Off balance or dizzy
- Double or fuzzy vision
- Ringing in ears
- Unequal-size pupils
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Changes in personality
“If someone has any of these symptoms, they should consider seeking medical attention,” Dr. Seifert said. “If the person is experiencing subtle symptoms, a doctor’s office or immediate care center can provide treatment or referral. Certainly, if the person has lost consciousness, had a seizure or is experiencing recurrent vomiting, he or she should be seen in an emergency department immediately.”
Recovery involves more than getting up, dusting off and getting back to it. It’s a process that must be taken seriously.
“The brain uses about 25 percent of the body’s energy to function, similar to the energy used by muscles when you run,” Dr. Seifert said. “An injured brain requires even more energy to heal. That means the brain needs a certain degree of rest and ‘downtime’ in order to heal from a concussion.”
Downtime is more than refraining from physical activities. Mental stimulation, like playing video games, watching TV or doing work that requires focus and concentration, also needs to be limited. Complete recovery could take a week or two, or months, depending on the severity of the concussion. Going back to a normal routine before the brain is healed can set the person up for further injury.
“While the brain is healing it is more vulnerable and susceptible to injury. It only takes minimal force to cause recurrent — and potentially life-threatening — damage,” Dr. Seifert said. “In the early stages of recovery from a concussion, the brain’s ability to self-regulate blood volume is impaired. A repeat head injury during this time can potentially cause brain swelling, sometimes resulting in significant disability or even death. Although this scenario is unlikely, the return-to-activity process should be monitored closely under the guidance of a medical professional with expertise in concussion management.”
Because many concussions are not visible on a brain scan, the only way to know when the brain is completely healed is by the person’s symptoms. Someone who has had a concussion should keep a log of symptoms, noting if they’ve improved or changed over time.
“Healing the brain is a careful balance between avoiding too much activity and doing too little activity,” Dr. Seifert said. “That’s why it’s important to take an injury to the head seriously and seek proper medical care. A doctor can guide you on how to make a full recovery.”
Dr. Seifert advises that both kids and adults should always wear a helmet when biking, skating, skateboarding, horseback riding, using recreational vehicles and playing contact sports. Protecting your brain means protecting your ability to do all the activities you love.