Concussions will affect more than a quarter of adults during their lifetime and about 7% of kids. And when it happens to you or someone you love, it can be scary. Understanding what can cause a concussion, learning to recognize its signs and knowing what to do when it happens can help recovery can go a long way in giving you peace of mind.

What is a Concussion?

Typically caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit that causes the head to jerk back and forth, a concussion is an injury to the brain that results in a temporary loss of normal brain function. Concussions can range from mild—leaving a person disoriented or slow to react—to more severe, causing loss of consciousness and even death. And if you suffer repeated concussions, your risk for negative impacts increases dramatically because the brain loses its ability to recover and return to its original level of function.

What Can Cause a Concussion?

You don’t have to be a football player to have a concussion, although sports injuries are one of the primary causes. Others include falls and car accidents. Kids, young adults and older adults are at a higher risk for concussions and may take longer to recover from one. Also, once you’ve had a concussion, you’re more likely to have another one.

When a concussion occurs, the brain bounces, jerks or twists, causing it to collide with the inside of the skull. That movement stretches and damages brain cells and leads to chemical changes that stop the brain from functioning normally for a brief time.

Concussion Symptoms

Signs of concussion vary, but may include:

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Feeling irritable or not “feeling right”
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems balancing or feeling lightheaded
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Temporary loss of consciousness

Signs typically show up right after the injury happens but can take time to develop. That’s why it’s important to continue to check for symptoms for several days. For sports-specific concussions, please contact the Sports Medicine Walk-in Clinic at 270-417-7940. For all other concussions, please consult your primary care physician first. If symptoms worsen—for example, nausea and vomiting begin or become severe—you should go to the emergency room right away.

Testing for Concussion

Testing for a concussion generally involves assessing your brain function after a head injury with questionnaires or symptom checklists that target aspects of your brain function like alertness, memory, focus and problem-solving ability. Testing may also include checking your balance, reflexes and coordination.

A concussion test is one tool we use to diagnose a concussion. We also may perform an imaging test, such as a CT scan, to determine whether the injury was severe or caused bleeding or swelling in the skull. And, in some instances, will hospitalize you overnight for observation.

Concussion Treatment

After a concussion, rest is critical. It can take several days to weeks for your brain to heal and recover. That’s why following the concussion protocol—the steps you need to follow to return to normal activity—prescribed by your doctor is key.

Rest is the first stage in concussion protocol and may include:

  • Mental rest, such as no school or work
  • Physical rest, such as getting plenty of sleep and not running or taking part in sports or other strenuous activities

Your doctor may prescribe certain prescription drugs to help treat concussion symptoms like headaches. Physical, occupational and cognitive therapy may also be recommended.

When your doctor thinks it’s safe, you’ll be allowed to gradually return to normal activity. However, resuming physical activity too quickly can increase your risk of another concussion.

Post-concussion Syndrome

In most concussion cases, symptoms go away after about two weeks, but sometimes, they may last for longer than a month or two. When this happens, your doctor may diagnose post-concussion syndrome, or PCS, which is the name for lingering symptoms following a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.

People with PCS can experience concussion symptoms months after the injury happened, either at rest or after engaging in too much physical or mental activity. Sometimes, symptoms may be physical, such as a persistent sensitivity to light and sound, and other times, they may be mental, such as anxiety or depression.

Concussion Resources

At Owensboro Health, our sports medicine specialists are trained to help you get back to your active lifestyle as quickly as possible. You don’t have to make an appointment to visit one of our sports medicine walk-in clinics. They’re open from Monday through Friday, from 8 to 11 a.m.

You can also find concussion resources at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HEADS UP Resource Center.