Concussions: They Don’t Just Happen to Athletes

We’ve heard a lot about concussions in the world of sports, but concussions can happen to anyone. A concussion is not just a sports injury.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changes the brain’s normal functions.

The most common cause of concussions is slips and falls. Other common causes of a TBI or concussion are car accidents or bumps, blows or jolts to the head, such as something falling on you while working around the home or on the job.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year about 1.7 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations or deaths were associated with traumatic brain injuries.

Fortunately, most concussions cause only mild, temporary problems. Most people recover fully. However, an unrecognized or poorly treated concussion can prolong the recovery time and increase the risk of brain swelling, which can be dangerous.

Having had a previous concussion increases the risk of another concussion.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion?

With a concussion, you may not see all of these signs and symptoms, but if you have concerns, it’s important to promptly seek professional health care. Some signs, such as behavior or personality changes, may take some time to be noticed.

Concussion signs

  • Vacant stare
  • Delayed verbal and/or motor responses
  • Confusion and/or inability to focus attention
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Behavior or personality changes
  • Memory deficits or amnesia
  • Any loss of consciousness

Concussion symptoms

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vision problems (blurred or d e)
  • Hearing problems/ringing in ears
  • "Foggy" or "slowed down" feeling
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased/abnormal emotional responses
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty remembering

A health care professional can properly diagnose a concussion.

Treatment for a Concussion

A primary treatment for a concussion is rest — both physical and mental — so the body can heal properly. During treatment, patients may be asked to:

  • Rest as long as recommended by the health care professional.
  • Avoid certain medicines. Check with a health care professional before taking medications, especially aspirin, blood thinners and medications that can cause drowsiness.
  • Avoid using alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Prevent re-injury by avoiding activities that might jolt or jar the head.
  • Wait to return to a sports activity until your health care professional has given permission. Ask when it's safe to drive a car, ride a bike, work or play at heights or use heavy equipment.
  • Have neuropsychological testing. Check on the availability of concussion baseline screenings and post-concussion assessment tools.

The health care professional will likely check the patient two or three times each week for about six to eight weeks.

Steps to Prevent TBI

Every sport or activity has specific steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of TBI/concussion. General recommendations include:

  • Wear the proper helmet for your activity. See the helmet safety tips.
  • Helmets should be worn consistently and correctly.
  • Helmets should be well maintained, age appropriate and appropriately certified for their use.
  • Children should not use a helmet that’s too big for them.
  • Make sure the helmet is positioned correctly on the head. (Bicycle helmets are commonly worn incorrectly. See the helmet safety tips.)
  • Instruct sports participants on how to reduce their risks for TBI and how to protect others.
  • Ensure all participants understand the signs and symptoms of a concussion and the importance of reporting symptoms of a possible concussion to coaches or an another adult.

Around the home or workplace:

  • Reduce the risks for slips and falls by ensuring there’s good lighting and no obstructions in walking paths. (Wrinkled rugs or carpeting, low drawers left open and clutter on the floor are common causes of falls.)
  • Reduce wet or slippery surfaces. Potential slip-and-fall hazards include wet floors in areas such as the bathroom, and fall leaves or winter ice on walking paths.

If you ever have a concern or question about TBI/concussion, check with your health care professional. Appropriate treatment is the key to a full recovery from a TBI/concussion.

Meet the Author

Stephen P. Peterson, MD, is a sports and family medicine specialist at Aurora Health Care in Lake Geneva, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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