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Published on September 04, 2012

concussion written on chalkboard

Symptoms of Concussions - It's Not Just a Headache

Headache is one of the most common symptoms, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound. Do those symptoms sound familiar? Migraine headaches have much in common with the symptoms of a concussion.

The reason I mention that is because I occasionally see an athlete presenting these symptoms who doesn’t mention getting a head injury until I specifically ask them about it. Concussion symptoms can evolve over the initial 12-24 hours following a blow to the head, so don’t be fooled into thinking your child does not have a concussion because they denied having any symptoms when the actual injury occurred.

I have often wondered if this is due to adrenaline or the excitement of the moment – similar to feeling all the aches and pains the next day after a sporting event.

Many Tell-Tale Signs

People affected by a concussion also frequently struggle with cognitive symptoms. Some of the most common ones are feelings of “fogginess” and struggles with concentration; parents may even notice that they look dazed.

They may have difficulty remembering things, and sometimes do not even recall the concussion itself or the period of time before or after it. Sleep is also commonly affected – often times sleeping much more than usual yet still feeling generally tired.

A concussed athlete can also be very emotional or irritable.  Blurry vision and other vision complaints, as well as dizziness round out the list of potential symptoms.

Rest, and Rest Some More

As you can see, the brain has a lot of different ways of showing us that it has been affected by the concussion. So how can we get things back to normal?

Rest is the key and involves both physical and mental rest. We used to believe that strict physical rest was best, but that is no longer the case. Current recommendations involve light-aerobic exercise which is often begun in the days following an injury – this is guided by your treating physician.   

Mental rest is harder, because as any student athlete knows, the classroom doesn’t take a break when an injury happens. So we attempt to make modifications in the athlete’s daily routine (simple things like having extra time for assignments, postponing big tests, or getting help with notes). 

My chief goal to maintain a degree of "normalcy" in their life – they can still get exercise just with some limitations in place; they should still go to school and be social and experience life with their friends and teammates – again with some modifications in place.

Symptoms are the key, and when they are getting worse with something we need to look at doing it differently.

As I mentioned in my last post, the time for recovery averages 10-14 days for high-school aged athletes. But that time is unique to each athlete, and each injury. I have seen concussion symptoms resolve in just a few days, and I have had athletes who took months to recover from their concussion.

Getting Back to the Game

So how does your doctor know for sure when the athlete is ready to return to the field? The history and the physical exam performed in the office are the biggest parts of that decision. Other factors also play a role – such has how many concussions the athlete has had, or the presence of any other medical conditions that may pose an increased risk for prolonged recovery.   

The bottom line when it comes to concussions in youth sports is that we are dealing with a young athlete, one whose brain is continuing to grow and develop. We learn more about concussions all the time, but there is still a lot we don’t know when it comes to young athletes and the long-term effects of concussions.

This is something to be taken seriously, especially when we see more and more professional athletes whose lives have been adversely affected by a history of concussions throughout their careers.

These young athletes have long lives ahead of them. Let’s help keep them as safe as we can. If you have any questions about concussions, or if you are concerned your child may have suffered a concussion, I encourage you to talk with your doctor about it.

Long gone are the days when it was okay to just “shake it off.”

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