What is a Concussion?


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Every parent knows that gut-wrenching feeling that you get when your child's health and wellness is put at risk.

Unfortunately, Mom, you can't protect them from everything!

Head injuries and concussions are an inevitable part of growing up, being active and playing sports. Football, soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse tend to have higher rates of concussions, so athletes playing these sports should be aware of the symptoms.

Read on to learn about what a concussion is, how to identify it and what to do if your child has one.

Symptoms of a concussion

A concussion is an injury to the brain most often caused by a direct blow or jolt to the head or body.

This impact causes the head to rapidly change direction and as a result, "shakes" the brain. This violent movement causes a "short circuiting" of the normal working of the brain cells and affects the way they communicate with each other. Think of it like a navigation system leading you to the wrong routes -- a concussion causes an abnormal functioning of the brain that can lead to a variety of symptoms.

What to Look For

You do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion. In fact, most people who have a concussion are never actually knocked unconscious.

Every person is different in regards to the signs and symptoms of concussion. And it certainly does not help that it is often difficult to recognize the head injury that causes a concussion.

The most common physical symptoms of concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling off-balance or having difficulty maintaining balance
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound (For example: hearing music on the radio may give you a headache)
  • Blurred vision or difficulty seeing
  • A slower reaction time than usual

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of a concussion.

The Silent Three

In addition to the more obvious physical symptoms that you or your child may experience when afflicted with a concussion, there are also the "Silent Three," or the harder-to-detect symptoms.

The silent symptoms of concussion are most often noticed by observers such as parents, siblings or teachers. This is often the case because these are not physical symptoms which can cause the child pain, but rather changes in cognizance which can alter how the child interacts with their environment.

In other words, there is a potential change in one or more of the child's usual patterns such as the way that they think, sleep or act.

These symptoms may be clues that your child has a concussion:

1. Sleep

If your child has more trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or is sleeping more or less than usual and/or appearing more tired than usual, this may be an indication of concussion.

2. Behavior

If you notice a change in your child's personality (i.e. they seem more irritable, sad/depressed, anxious/nervous or impatient), or they are having more frequent and severe mood swings, they may be suffering from a concussion.

3. Cognition

If your child (or an adult) appears slower to remember something when learning new information, has difficulty concentrating (such as in school or at work) or seems to be 'in a fog,' they may be suffering from a head trauma.

Treating a Concussion

So, I've identified a concussion in my child, what should I do next?

See the Doc

If you suspect that your child or loved one may have suffered a serious head injury and they are experiencing any of the above symptoms, first make an appointment with the family physician or pediatrician immediately.

It is important to note that a diagnosis of concussion cannot be made by a CT scan or MRI. Those tests can check for physical signs of injury, such as a fracture or bleeding, but they cannot diagnose the functionality of the brain, such as the changes that would indicate a concussion.

To help in the diagnosis of a concussion, a physician is needed in order to put the puzzle pieces together. A doctor can also complete a physical examination and possibly test the child's memory in order to see how well they are able to recall information.

Get Tested

If a concussion is suspected, the doctor may suggest another type of test, a computerized examination known as neurocognitive testing. This test tracks the child's ability to think, concentrate, learn and reason. It is often most helpful to compare the results to their pre-injury neurocognitive test (many schools offer this test before the start of sports seasons). However, even if your child has not had this type of test before, it can be an aid in tracking how well the child is recovering cognitively from their concussion.

Give it Time

It's a tough pill for a concerned mother to swallow, but when it comes to this type of injury, what your child needs most is some rest and relaxation.

Time is what will help the brain to heal from a concussion. This may mean avoiding loud noises such as television and the radio and keeping activity to a bare minimum.

Listen to what your physician says -- it may take weeks to months to go back to normal levels of activity depending on the severity of the injury. Be sure to keep in touch with your child's physician and school teachers in order to track the progress of your child's injury.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Danoff, Rob, MD "What Is a Concussion." Expert. 11 Oct. 2013.
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