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Hard Knocks: How to Spot a Concussion

September 12, 2017 | By Kristen Printy
Published in: First Aid

Child laying in a hospital bed

We've all seen the cringe worthy hits on the NFL highlight reels. Sports like football, boxing, and hockey are well known for the rough and tumble action that causes concussions. You don't have to be a professional athlete to be at risk for a concussion though. In fact, concussion injuries have doubled over the last ten years. Let's explore the risk factors, symptoms, and best ways to prevent concussions.

What is a Concussion?

3D male figure with the brain highlighted

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that results from a jolt or hit to your head or body. Your brain is soft like Jell-O. As extra protection, it's cushioned by fluid in your skull. This is why normal bumps don't cause harm to your brain. However, a forceful impact slams your brain back and forth against your skull resulting in injury. Concussions are sometimes difficult to detect, delaying essential medical care. Concussions that are left untreated may cause brain bleeds, permanent brain damage, and even death.

Risky Business

Everyone is at risk of a concussion, especially young children and the elderly. Concussions often occur from:

  • Falls
  • Sports such as football, hockey, soccer, rugby, boxing, or other contact sports especially if proper safety equipment isn't used
  • Car accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Combat
  • Physical abuse
  • Having a previous concussion

Warning Signs

Woman laying with a towel on her head

Spotting a concussion is often difficult because symptoms may not show up right away. It can take hours or even days for concussion symptoms to appear. If in doubt, always seek treatment as a safety precaution! Delaying treatment of a concussion can result in permanent injury. Remember, older adults and children may not be able to communicate their symptoms adequately. People that have had prior concussions are also at increased risk of developing another concussion. If you encounter any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

  • Headache or head pressure
  • Uneven pupils
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Loss of consciousness - *Note: Concussions can occur without losing consciousness
  • Confusion or trouble concentrating
  • Not remembering the hit or trauma
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Ringing ears
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed verbal responses
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and/or depression
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Sleeping more or less than normal, unable to fall asleep

Symptoms in children may also include:

  • Being lethargic
  • Changes in eating or sleeping
  • Excessive crying
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys
  • Loss of new skills, like toilet training
  • Unsteady walking, loss of balance
  • Crankiness
  • Appearing dazed, unable to pay attention

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises seeking medical treatment for anything more than a light bump to a child's head or body.

Myth Busters

Understanding concussions is key to prevention and treatment. Some common myths about concussions are:

  • Being knocked unconscious is worse than not losing consciousness: False. The severity of a concussion can be the same whether a person loses consciousness or not.
  • Male athletes are at higher risk of concussions than female athletes: False. Male and female athletes have the same risk of concussion.
  • You have to be hit very hard to get a concussion: False. Any contact to your head or body that causes the head to move rapidly can cause a concussion. Sustaining several lower impact hits may even be more dangerous than one forceful hit. Anyone that sustains a hard impact should seek medical attention.
  • Helmets prevent 100% of concussions: False. Helmets protect the skull from being fractured. No helmet can 100% prevent concussions though.

Prevention is Key

Cyclist overlooking a lake

While concussions can be complicated to detect, preventing them is easy. Following these safety precautions drastically reduces your risk of concussion.

  • Wear protective equipment: Make sure equipment fits well and is always worn during sports or physical activity like bike, ATV, and horse riding.
  • Safe Driving and Riding: Always wear a seat belt and obey traffic rules. Make sure to install car seats correctly.
  • Fall Proof Your Home: Remove fall hazards from your home. Add railings, non-slip mats, and adequate lighting to prevent fall hazards.

Symptoms of a concussion may not show up for hours or days after a hard knock. When in doubt, always seek medical attention for a possible concussion. Doing so can prevent permanent brain damage and even death. Prevention is always the first line of defense for avoiding injuries. By taking a few simple safety precautions, you can drastically reduce your risk of a concussion. Live, play, and work safely!

The Augusta Health Emergency Department staff is here for you 24/7 to provide state of the art medical care for life's unexpected situations.