A concussion is caused by a sudden, violent jolt to the brain. The force can cause stretching and tearing to the brain and soft tissue that support it. Forces that can cause this type of damage include:
A blow to the head
Severe jarring or shaking—like a bad fall
Abruptly coming to a stop—most common in car accidents
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer. They may be immediately present or appear a few hours or days after the injury. The symptoms that develop will depend on the severity of the injury. More common symptoms are listed below.
Physical symptoms may include:
Low-grade headache or neck pain
Loss of balance or coordination
Ringing in the ears or trouble hearing
Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
Nausea or vomiting
Feeling fatigued or tired
Increased sensitivity to sounds, light, or distraction
Change in sleeping pattern, sleeping more than normal or trouble sleeping
Mental and emotional symptoms may include:
Loss of consciousness or memory about the accident
Trouble processing information, such as difficulty:
Paying attention or concentrating
Organizing daily tasks
Making decisions and solving problems
Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
Mood instability or changes such as:
Feeling sad, anxious, or listless
Becoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reason
A doctor should be consulted if serious symptoms like confusion and vomiting occur or if symptoms get worse.
Young children may not be able to clearly communicate symptoms. Talk to a doctor if the child has had a head injury and is showing any of the following symptoms:
You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how you reacted. A physical exam will be done. It will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory. The doctor will often be able to diagnose a concussion based on the exam and history.
may be done if there are severe symptoms or certain risk factors but are not always needed.
The brain can usually heal on its own with some rest and avoiding activities that may be harmful while it heals. Normal activities can be resumed when tolerated and if advised by the doctor. Strenuous physical activity and sports participation may be resumed depending on the severity of your concussion and individual symptoms. Symptoms will gradually fade during recovery.
There may be cognitive problems after a concussion that can make mentally-demanding tasks more difficult. Early in recovery, activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork may be difficult. Also, consider reducing video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.
Increase mental and physical activities gradually as recommended by your doctor based on how you feel. Symptoms, balance, cognition, and tolerance to current activity levels may be tested throughout recovery.
Prevent Further Damage
The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. Re-injury can lead to more severe or long-term symptoms. Precautions should be taken with:
Certain medications—especially aspirin , blood thinners, and medications that cause drowsiness
Use of alcohol and illegal drugs.
Activities that might jolt or jar the head from recreational activities and sports to rollercoasters.
Second head injury can be especially dangerous in children and adolescents (second impact syndrome). Even a mild second head injury in children and adolescents can lead to serious damage to the brain. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
Halstead ME, Walter KD, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical report--sport-related concussion in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010 Sep;126(3):597-615. full-text
Kirkwood MW, Yeates KO, Wilson PE. Pediatric sport-related concussion: a review of the clinical management of an oft-neglected population.
Pearce JM. Observations on concussion: a review.
Sports-related concussion information for athletes. Wesleyan University Athletic Injury Care website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated January 2007. Accessed February 7, 2018.
Traumatic brain injury and concussion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated February 9, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.
What can I do to help feel better after a mild traumatic brain injury? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/recovery.html. Updated January 22, 2016. Accessed February 7, 2018.