Recognizing concussion symptoms may save your life.
For generations, athletes took blows to the head and kept right on playing. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the game. Coaches, teammates and fans may depend on you. But getting hit again and again can permanently damage your brain. It can even kill you.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury that interrupts the normal functioning of your brain.
Only one concussion in 10 knocks the player out. And you can get a concussion without any sign on the outside of your head. The damage can happen just because your head makes a sudden movement. Your brain floats in fluid inside your skull. A violent motion can throw it around like the passenger in a crashing car.
That’s why helmets can’t prevent concussions. They protect the outside of the head. But they don’t stop your head from moving suddenly. So concussions are common in sports with helmets, like football and hockey, as well as sports without helmets, like wrestling, soccer, and basketball. Women and girls run a higher risk than men and boys.
Of course, not every blow to the head causes a concussion. So how do you know which hits to worry about?
The most common concussion symptoms are headache either in the form of pain or pressure. You may feel dizzy, see flashes of light or hear ringing. Many people with concussion also experience confusion, foggy thinking or memory loss. It may be hard to answer questions and you may slur your speech. You may lose balance easily.
Because your brain also controls your digestive system, concussion symptoms also often include nausea and vomiting.
Hours and even days after the injury, a concussion can make you tired, but also disturb your sleep. It can affect your mood and make it hard to concentrate. Your sense of taste and smell can change. (A lot of other problems can cause similar symptoms. So it’s important to note whether you were experiencing any of these symptoms in the weeks before you were hit on the head.)
What to Do
Seek emergency care if someone who has been hit in the head does any of the following:
- Loses consciousness longer than half a minute
- Vomits repeatedly
- Behaves strangely
- Slurs speech
- Loses balance or fumbles
- Appears disoriented
If you suspect an athlete in your care has a concussion, make sure that person gets evaluated by a medical expert. A person with a concussion should not return to play for at least a few days after the symptoms subside. The expert may check the athlete’s balance with a test such as the Balance Error Scoring System. The medical expert may use a set of questions, such as the ones on the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT), to see if the athlete is thinking clearly.
Contrary to traditional advice, there is no reason not to let a person sleep after a concussion. But aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen should be avoided because of the possibility these drugs could increase bleeding in the brain.
If the concussion symptoms worsen or do not clear up within a few days, make sure the injured person gets reevaluated by a physician.