For athletes who play contact sports, concussions are all too common. Sometimes a blow to the head is taken lightly, saying, “He got his bell rung,” or, “she didn’t black out, so she’s OK.”
The fact is, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that can have lasting effects on the brain. And they don’t just happen to athletes. They can happen to anyone, of any age, who experiences a blow to the head, or violent shaking of the head back and forth from a fall or an accident. Once you’ve had a concussion, you are more likely to have another one.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine if you have a concussion at the time of injury. Concussions are not always visible on imaging tests. But athletes who have had a concussion, even a minor one, must avoid sports until their brain has fully healed, which can take up to a month in some cases. Playing sports while the brain is still healing puts you at high risk for a second, potentially fatal, brain injury. In addition, your brain and body need to rest for optimum healing.
If you’ve experienced a blow to the head, the following are some signs that it could be a concussion:
- Headache, possibly one that gets worse and won’t go away
- Loss of consciousness — even if only for a second
- Nausea or vomiting
- Drowsiness or inability to wake up
- Vision problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Confusion, agitation, or unusual behavior
- Memory problems
- Seizures or convulsions
Your physician will evaluate your symptoms and talk with you about the incident that caused the injury. Then, he or she will talk with you about your activity and may tell you when you can safely return to sports or other activities. Repeated concussions can result in permanent brain damage, so wearing a properly fitting helmet or other equipment is critical for athletes. In addition, some activities that require heavy concentration may make symptoms worse and may need to be delayed until healing is complete. Most people will recover fully from a concussion with proper rest and treatment.
Your brain is arguably the most important organ in your body. Treat it with care by protecting your head and taking any head injury seriously. Parents and coaches should learn about concussion and how to help prevent this serious condition from happening whenever possible. The most important thing you can do is to seek medical attention whenever a blow to the head occurs and don’t continue any activity until you have been evaluated by a physician. This will ensure your brain heals as quickly as possible, and will help prevent future injuries or complications.