A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when excessive force causes the brain to hit the skull.
Symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe. They can include:
- loss of consciousness
- memory problems
- drowsiness or feeling sluggish
- double vision or blurred vision
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light or noise
- balance problems
- slowed reaction to stimuli
Concussion symptoms may appear immediately, or may develop in the hours and days following the injury. This makes rest, observation, and avoiding reinjury even more important.
If the concussion occurred while playing sports, you should not resume playing until you have been evaluated by a doctor or athletic trainer.
There is risk of much more severe consequences if you reinjure your head before your concussion is healed.
You should not drive, operate machinery, or be alone for 24 hours after a concussion. Symptoms may still be developing, and you could risk loss of consciousness or slowed reaction times during this period.
In the first two days after a concussion, follow these steps to ensure you have a safe recovery:
- Avoid caffeine.
- Sleep at least 8 to 10 hours in a 24 hour period.
- Have someone check on you to ensure your symptoms are not worsening.
- Avoid screen time on a computer, TV, smartphone, or tablet. Activities like texting or playing video games require an amount of mental focus that can worsen your symptoms, as can the bright light and movement of screens.
- Take a break from mentally demanding activities such as work, school, computer use, and reading.
- Avoid bright lights and loud noises.
- Take a mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Avoid sports or demanding physical activities.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat a light, healthy diet.
- Avoid alcohol consumption, as this may worsen or mask your symptoms.
Why not ibuprofen or aspirin?
Check with a doctor before taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin (Bayer). These medications can increase the risk of bleeding and may not be recommended for some injuries.
Anywhere from a couple days to a week after your injury, you will gradually be able to resume normal activities as your symptoms improve.
Start by adding short periods of activity and see how you feel.
- Get active slowly. If your symptoms do not return or worsen, you may keep adding more activity. You will likely be able to return to work or school within a week of your concussion.
- Take breaks and modify what you do. If your symptoms return or get worse, try a different activity, take a break, or try a milder version of the activity (e.g., walking instead of jogging, or reading a physical book instead of reading on a tablet).
- Sleep, drink water, and eat. Keep getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding any activity where you might reinjure your head.
- Wait. It’s important for your concussion to heal before you participate in sports or physical activity where you could fall or be hit in the head.
- Follow-up. If you’re unsure if an activity is safe, or your symptoms are not improving, call your doctor.
A week after a concussion
If your symptoms have not improved within 7 to 10 days after your concussion, you should call a doctor for help. Call sooner if your symptoms are worsening or you’re concerned.
In many cases, all symptoms of a concussion are gone within a week to a month of the injury.
If your symptoms are gone and your doctor has not instructed you otherwise, you may resume all of your normal activities except for sports and activities at high risk for falls or head injuries.
You should be cleared by your doctor before you participate in sports or other demanding physical activities. It’s important to make sure that your concussion has healed so that you do not risk a second head injury.
Concussions typically heal enough to resume all normal activity within 2 to 4 weeks.
Athletes should be cleared by a doctor before returning to sports.
What to expect
A doctor may wish to see you for an evaluation or even recommend imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, in an emergency room.
If you have a serious head injury involving bleeding or swelling of the brain, you may need surgery or another medical intervention.
Most concussions will heal without major medical treatment.
It’s best to be evaluated by a medical professional if you think you have a concussion. They can make sure you do not have a more severe injury and monitor you for changes.
Head injuries should be handled with caution. If your symptoms get worse at any point, check in with a doctor.
If your symptoms do not improve, get worse, or you still have symptoms after 7 -to10 days, check back in with your doctor. They may wish to see you again.
If you develop the following symptoms, seek immediate medical care.
Signs to seek immediate help
One of the greatest risks of a concussion is called second impact injury. This is when someone experiences a second head injury before the first one is fully healed. This increases the risk of long-term complications and even fatal bleeding in the brain.
Another complication of concussions is called post-concussion syndrome. It’s not known why this affects some people and not others, but some people who suffer from a concussion will continue to have symptoms for months after their injury.
It’s possible to injure your neck or back at the same time that you get a concussion. If someone has just experienced a head injury, it’s best to avoid moving them until trained medical personnel arrive.
People who have an underlying seizure disorder or other neurological problem may experience worse symptoms from a concussion.
People with bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, are at high risk for severe complications from a concussion, such as bleeding in the brain.
There’s a small amount of
Head injuries in yourself or a loved one, especially a child, should always be taken seriously. It’s important to seek care from a doctor after a head injury. Getting help early can contribute to a better recovery.
If you have a concussion, take good care of yourself in the days and weeks following your injury. Resting both physically and mentally will help ensure you have a quick and complete recovery.
Most people are able to fully recover from concussions, often within a month or less. Sometimes symptoms continue for longer than expected. If your symptoms do not improve, call your doctor.