How to Treat a Concussion
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that can occur after an impact to your head or a whiplash-type injury that causes your head and brain to shake quickly back and forth. In this article, we will explain how to treat a concussion and how it is diagnosed.
A concussion results in an altered mental state that may include becoming unconscious. Anyone can become injured during a fall, car accident, or any other daily activity, but people who participate in impact sports, such as football or boxing, have an increased risk of getting a concussion. Although concussions are usually not life-threatening, they can cause serious symptoms that require medical treatment.
How is a Concussion Diagnosed?
Symptoms of a concussion vary between individuals and their severity depends on how bad the injury is.
Not everyone loses consciousness after a concussion, but it is important to see a doctor if you are having persistent symptoms after the incidence. In serious cases that require seeing a doctor, your doctor will diagnose you by starting with questions about how the injury happened and symptoms you are having. You might further be required to go through physical examination to determine what other symptoms you might have.
In the case of serious symptoms, any or all of these may also be required:
- MRI scan or CT scan to directly identify an area of bleeding, fractured skull, or other injury
- An electroencephalogram test (which monitors brain waves) in the case of seizures
- Special eye test to assess if any visual changes are related to a concussion
- A neurological exam to test strength, sensation, reflexes, vision, and balance
- Cognitive tests to assess emotional state
In case of an emergency where you or someone else has a concussion, please see a doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment for a concussion usually depends on the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a surgery or other medical procedures if you have bleeding or swelling, which can indicate a serious injury in the brain.
However, most concussions do not require surgery. In some cases, concussions may be accompanied by injuries to the spine. In the case of an accident that involves a neck or back injury too, the affected person should only be moved very carefully by keeping the neck and back as stationary as possible. The spine might have been affected, so this precaution will help prevent further damage.
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Here are some recommended tips on how to treat a concussion:
- The first step for someone with a concussion is to leave the area where the injury occurred— the affected person should be in company of another person.
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), in case of headaches as prescribed by the doctor.
- Ensure you get plenty of rest— this allows your brain to heal.
- Avoid sports and other strenuous activities— getting a second concussion before the first concussion has healed can cause a condition known as second impact syndrome.
- Avoid driving a vehicle until your doctor says it is safe to do so.
- Avoid drinking alcohol for the meantime, since alcohol might slow recovery.
- You can only return to sports when you are completely symptom-free.
- Before returning to your normal cognitive and physical activities, speak to a doctor.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
After experiencing a concussion, it is possible to start feeling better within one to two weeks of the injury, provided you have received proper treatment. Even if you might completely recover from the concussion, some of the symptoms may take months to disappear.
In rare and severe cases, some people may experience certain emotional, mental, or physical changes that could last longer. Repeat concussions should be avoided because even though they are rarely fatal, they can increase the chances of getting permanent brain damage.
There is no definitive way of knowing how long recovery will take but ensure that you go for regular checkups with your doctor.
You can reduce your risk of getting a concussion by wearing the correct fitting helmet and other athletic safety gear when playing sport activities. You should also ensure that you always follow safe playing techniques as advised by a sports professional.