What is a Concussion and What to Do if You Get One

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If you’re a parent with young children, you may be hesitant to let them play physical sports like football or hockey due to the risk of them incurring a concussion. But what is a concussion, what are the signs and symptoms, and what should you do if you or someone you know gets one? Read on to find out.

Each season, around one in twenty youth players under age 14 sustain a concussion.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), typically caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head. It can also be caused by an intense knock to the body that causes the head to move back and forth too quickly. 

When this sudden, violent movement occurs, the brain may twist or bounce around inside the head, causing trauma. In particular, brain cells and/or neurons may be damaged, and chemical changes can occur.

What Does a Concussion Do To the Brain?

Getting one concussion usually doesn’t cause permanent damage, but multiple concussions over a short period of time–or, especially, over a lifetime–can cause structural changes in the brain. Repeated concussions can damage neurons and change the way they communicate with the rest of the brain’s circuitry, resulting in memory loss, trouble concentrating, and balance issues. 

TBIs can also cause breaks in the semi-permeable wall that allows good substances to flow in and out of the blood-brain barrier, and which blocks potentially harmful substances like free radicals from entering the body. When this “leak” is present, inflammation occurs in response to help plug the gap. While this inflammatory response is positive in the short term, longer-term damage can result if the inflammation is chronic. 

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Other secondary injuries and brain disruptions can also arise from concussions, such as brain swelling, skull fracture, or even death.

Who’s Most at Risk of Getting a Concussion?

Those who participate in sports or other activities that can involve direct blows to the head or other forceful contact have some of the highest risks of getting a concussion. Boxers and football, lacrosse, and soccer players are at risk. The elderly and children under four also have a higher risk, since they’re more prone to falling.

According to researchers, female athletes may be twice as likely to get a concussion than their male counterparts–and may have a longer recovery period. Certain people may also have a higher risk of getting a concussion due to genetic predisposition, according to a study at Stanford Medicine. 

Among these groups and others, millions of adults suffer from concussions each year, due to sports injuries, car accidents, falls, trips, slips, and domestic violence. Many don’t seek medical attention, but experts estimate that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur in the U.S. each year.

Concussion Symptoms

Because no two concussions are ever exactly the same, they can be tricky to diagnose. However, some common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Headache or “pressure” in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Balance problems
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling foggy, hazy, sluggish, or out of it
  • Confusion or concentration/memory problems.
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in personality

If you have a concussion, you might start acting silly, getting agitated or emotional, or thinking more slowly than usual. You might take longer to respond to questions, form sentences, and make decisions; and also have difficulty recognizing people you know. You might also get a headache that doesn’t go away and/or gets more severe, even after you’ve been resting. Or you may feel increasingly fatigued and become harder to rouse.

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What to Do if You Have a Concussion

If you think you or a loved one might have a concussion, it’s important to seek medical attention right away–especially if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Unusual sense of taste
  • Seizures
  • Weakness in your arm or leg
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Paralysis in any part of your body (such as one side of your face)

Once diagnosed, you’ll need lots of rest so your brain can recover. Historically, experts warned against sleeping with a concussion, based on a theory that you could go into a coma and/or die. But recent research shows it’s safe to sleep after getting a concussion as long as someone else is around to wake you regularly to monitor your symptoms.

So, if you or someone you know has concussion symptoms, here are some things that will help you heal faster, naturally:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid activities that could jostle the brain or lead to further trauma.
  • Eat a healthy, nutritious diet rich in antioxidants to speed recovery and reduce inflammation. Great options include fresh fruits and vegetables like blueberries, strawberries, kale, and spinach. Dark chocolate and pecans are also rich in antioxidants.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.

When you feel ready to go back to work, school, exercising, and other regular activities, do so gradually. Recovery can take anywhere from days to weeks–or, in some instances, months. So be gentle. If you try to do too much too soon, you could prolong your recovery period.

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References:

https://www.brainline.org/article/facts-about-concussion-and-brain-injury

https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/pdfs/providers/facts_about_concussion_tbi-a.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4292164/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3574788/

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrneurol.2013.33

https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/concussion/repeated-head-impacts.html#:~:text=A%20person%20with%20a%20history,recovery%20or%20more%20severe%20symptoms&text=Have%20long%2Dterm%20problems%2C%20including,such%20as%20keeping%20one’s%20balance

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672291/

https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2020/11/30/concussion-could-your-genes-increase-your-risk/#:~:text=%22We%20screened%20the%20entire%20genome,may%20be%20at%20increased%20risk.%22

https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_qk20dbwr#:~:text=There%20are%20many%20ways%20a,likely%20to%20suffer%20a%20concussion.

https://mosaicscience.com/story/men-women-concussion-cte-roller-derby-inequality-sex-head-injury-sports/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/can-you-sleep-with-a-concussion#:~:text=Medical%20experts%20once%20warned%20that,if%20they%20have%20a%20concussion

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962567/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7510605/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20096093/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20096093/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28208784/

Author
Carrie Solomon

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.

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