Get the answers to your most common questions about concussions.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a form of mild brain injury, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. A concussion is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. A fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and the brain to move quickly back and forth can also cause it. Concussions are diagnosed using neurologic and cognitive exams. Physical and cognitive rest are both very important after a concussion because they help the brain to heal.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Symptoms can include:
Headache or “pressure” in head.
Nausea or vomiting.
Balance problems or dizziness, or double or blurry vision.
Bothered by light or noise.
Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy.
Confusion, or concentration or memory problems.
Just not “feeling right,” or “feeling down.”
Concussion symptoms aren’t always apparent immediately. Some can occur days or weeks after the injury and some may persist for up to a year after the injury.
What should you do if your child has a concussion?
The most important first step is to prevent further head trauma. If your child is playing a sport, they should be removed from play to get medical help immediately.
Rest is essential after a concussion. You should work with your doctor or brain injury specialist to figure out how quickly to return to regular activity. This normally entails avoiding strenuous physical and mental activity for some time and slowly increasing the intensity of daily activity.
How can you best prevent concussions?
Helmets and protective equipment can help prevent many of the most serious brain injuries that can result from head trauma and have saved countless lives. Reminding your kids to play by the rules and put safety first in any kind of physical activity is equally important. Finally, many traumatic brain injuries and concussions occur in car accidents. Always put a seat belt on your kids and put them in a booster seat if they’re not big enough for a regular car seat.
For older adults, make changes in your home to prevent falls. This can include moving wires or rugs that are trip hazards and installing nonslip surfaces in places like the bathroom and kitchen.
Who is at risk for concussion?
Studies have shown that high school students are often at the highest risk of concussions. Girls also seem to be at higher risk for unknown reasons. Sports like hockey, football, and soccer tend to have high rates of concussion, which makes it important to pay close attention to safety rules in place for the sport and to use protective equipment.
Older adults are also at higher risk for concussion because they’re at higher risk for falls than younger individuals. These falls can result in severe and potentially deadly brain trauma.
If you’ve already had a concussion, you’re at greater risk for a subsequent concussion. Right after a concussion, the brain is more vulnerable to another, more serious injury. The effects of concussions are likely cumulative – so each one causes more severe symptoms and leads to a longer recovery time.
What are the long-term effects of concussions?
Most people who suffer a concussion will recover without any noticeable long-term symptoms. This is especially the case if return to regular activities is slow and progressive after the brain injury. A small minority may continue to have headaches, changes in vision, dizziness, mood changes, and cognitive problems beyond a year after injury. Repeated concussions make these extended symptoms more likely and may lead to a form of early onset dementia called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Should I prevent my child from participating in sports?
This is a question many parents around the country are asking. Few sports are completely free of dangers and most have significant health, social, and developmental benefits. The key is to weigh the risks of a sport against the benefits. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned and discuss the risks of having your child participate in certain organized sports.
How should parents talk to coaches about concussions?
Get involved and be supportive. Before a sports season starts, check in with your coach and school about concussion policies – be sure to discuss when athletes can return to play after an injury and who will be evaluating them to make sure they are symptom-free. One way to help ensure that athletes are fully recovered is to conduct preseason baseline testing for neurologic function. This way, you’ll be able to check that athletes have returned to baseline before returning to play. And enlist your school nurses to help monitor symptoms during the school day. Ask coaches to keep track of concussions so they can review how they occur and make plans to better prevent them next season.
Want to know more? Read the concussions fact sheet.