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Hit Your Head? Look for These Warning Signs of Concussion

Published in Neurosciences, For the Health of It Author: Sharon Mentzer, CentraCare Neurosciences Program Coordinator

If you or someone you know has suffered a concussion, a medical evaluation is crucial. Loss of consciousness is a pretty sure sign of a concussion. But if you don’t lose consciousness, it doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. Only about 5-10% of people who get concussions will experience loss of consciousness.

A concussion is typically a short-lived functional brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body resulting in the brain moving back and forth within the skull. A concussion sets off a chemical process in the brain as it’s trying to heal itself. During that process, it can affect different functions such as balance, memory, focus or even cause visual disturbances.

It’s believed that between 1.3 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. Other common causes of concussions include falling, car crashes and assaults.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion can occur immediately, hours or even days after the initial head injury. Symptoms can change over time making them difficult to recognize and manage.

Signs that medical attention is needed:

  • Dazed or stunned appearance
  • Personality or behavioral changes
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness, even brief
  • Clumsiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Seeming “out of it”
  • Forgetting events prior to or after the blow
  • Slow response to questions or repeatedly asking questions

Concussion symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Balance problems
  • Double, blurry or changed vision
  • Sensitivity to light and/or noise
  • Excessive fatigue/drowsiness
  • Difficulty comprehending, concentrating and/or paying attention
  • Irritability, nervousness
  • Feeling increasingly emotional or sad
  • Feeling just not right or “in a fog”
  • Changes in sleep patterns

More serious symptoms can appear in the first 24 to 48 hours after a head injury, so anyone suspected of sustaining a concussion should be monitored for worsening symptoms.

Seek immediate medical attention if the following signs appear after a head injury:

  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • Pupils that are enlarged or unequal in size
  • Unusual or bizarre behavior
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Seizures
  • Severe dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Progressively worsening headache
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Clumsiness
  • Excessive drowsiness or fainting
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty waking from sleep

Seek appropriate medical attention if you suspect you or someone you know may have sustained a concussion. Early treatment of a concussion can help progress through activities allowing you to return to work or play.