Heads Up

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 4 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year, concussions are not exclusively sports-related injuries.

There is no single, commonly agreed-upon definition of what a concussion is, but it is widely accepted as an impact or jolt to the head that impairs or disrupts brain function. If you suffer a blow to the head in any fashion, whether by playing sports, slipping on ice and falling, or any number of other ways, you should watch for concussion symptoms during the first 24 hours. If symptoms do not develop during that 24-hour period, they likely won’t. Symptoms to watch out for include blurry vision, balance problems, dizziness or confusion, and nausea or vomiting.

Concussions are a symptomatic brain injury, and they are defined by presence of symptoms without any abnormalities showing up on a brain scan.

Doctors caution that if trauma is significant — if you’ve been in a car accident, for example — then you really should go to the emergency room and have an imaging study performed to ensure you don’t have a more serious brain injury that requires intervention. Otherwise, seeing your primary care doctor is typically sufficient.

Concussion symptoms are typically treated with cognitive rest, which is accomplished by avoiding aerobic exercise, avoiding media, such as television, phones or computers, and sleeping when you feel symptoms worsening rather than taking medication and trying to push through.

Teenagers and Sports Concussions

Concussions often occur in adolescents who play team sports, particularly full-contact sports such as football. As of yet, there is no answer to the question of how many concussions are too many, but doctors note that if a high-school age athlete has already had concussions, the chances are very good he or she is going to get more. Fortunately, many schools have adopted sideline protocol that helps them determine whether a hit or blow received by the student athlete has caused a concussion.

Many teams will give their athletes a baseline test at the beginning of the season, so the team has a record of what normal brain function looks like for that athlete and can provide that information to medical professionals. These neurocognitive tests can be repeated after a blow or hit to determine if the athlete has suffered a concussion, and how bad it is.

The struggle with teenagers who have suffered concussions is getting them to avoid media during their recovery phase. Using media, such as cellphones, laptops or even television, can prolong symptoms and make recovery take longer. Teenagers, particularly student athletes, are also more likely to try to get back to their normal levels of activity before they should, something doctors warn against.

Take brain injuries seriously, particularly in youth younger than age 22. If they get a second concussion or other head injury while still symptomatic from the first, it can lead to Sudden Death Syndrome, which is both horrible and preventable. Concussions are not worth ignoring.

Texas Health concussion centers are available in Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano. To learn more, visit TexasHealth.org/Concussions.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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