Why Concussions Are So Dangerous and Can Leave Lasting Problems
A concussion is an injury to the brain from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. They can also be caused by a fall or a blow to the body that makes the head and brain jerk quickly side to side or back and forth, like in a car crash.
Doctors and other medical personnel refer to a concussion as a mild traumatic brain injury because concussions are not usually fatal, but their effects can be serious.
Signs and Symptoms of Concussion
Most people with concussions get better in a short amount of time. Some people have symptoms that last for days, weeks, or even longer, however. Older adults, young children, and teens may be slower to recover. Those who have had one concussion are at risk of having another, and if they do, it is harder to recover.
Some symptoms show up right away, while others may not manifest until days or even months later. Sometimes, people do not realize they are having problems. Some may not understand the problems or why they’re having them, which often leads to anxiety or stress.
Symptoms in Adults
In rare cases, a concussion may cause a dangerous blood clot in the brain. Go to an emergency room right away if there are any of the following symptoms after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body:
1. A headache that get worse and does not go away
2. Weakness, numbness or lack of coordination
3. Repeated vomiting or nausea
4. Speech problems
The people caring for someone after an accident should take them to an emergency room if they:
1. Become unconscious
2. Look sleepy or cannot be awakened
3. Have one pupil larger than the other
4. Cannot recognize people or places
5. Appear to get increasingly confused, nervous, or agitated
6. Have convulsions or seizures
Symptoms in Children
Take a child to the hospital immediately if they receive any type of injury to the head or body, and:
1. Show any of the adult symptoms
2. Keep crying and cannot be comforted
3. Do not want nurse or eat
Normally, the brain is perfectly balanced in the skull, surrounded by fluid that protects the brain. But when the head hits something hard enough, the thin fluid layer is not protection enough.
The brain bumps into the skull and it bruises where it hits with a second bruise forming on the opposite side when the brain jerks back into place. These two bruises on the brain are called the coup and the contrecoup.
The brain can twist and spin too, depending on how the head it hit. This twisting will stretch the nerve cells in the brain. The nerves’ ability to send and receive messages from the body is interrupted because the nerve fibers in the brain cells stretch and swell.
Too much stretching and swelling of these nerve cells can cause them to permanently damage their ability to send and receive messages with the rest of the body.
There are three levels of seriousness, according to Missouri University Health Care:
1. A person is confused and cannot think clearly, but remains conscious. This usually lasts less than 15 minutes.
2. The person is still conscious, but is confused and experiences memory loss. This lasts 15 minutes or more.
3. The person becomes unconscious. When they awaken, they have trouble thinking and moving.
A concussion initially paralyzes the brain, but this paralysis is usually short lived. No two people heal in the same way. It can take days, weeks or even months, depending on the person and how bad the concussion is. The brain is not totally healed until all of the symptoms are gone.
Getting more than one concussion over time can lead to serious mental and physical problems. The brain's nerve cells need time to heal and return to normal, and with multiple concussions, that healing will take longer. If someone suffers enough concussions, the nerves may never fully heal.
People who get concussions over and over again can develop a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy which causes the brain to break down, leading to memory loss, depression, and even dementia.
Everyone runs the risk of getting a concussion, although athletes, children, senior citizens, and those with high-risk jobs are more at risk of getting a head injury. The effects of untreated, undertreated, or mistreated concussions can be devastating. There are many ways a person with an undiagnosed or untreated concussion may have problems long after the initial injury, including:
1. Physical ability: Balance issues, dizziness, headaches, and even seizures are some of the physical problems seen in people with one or more concussions.
2. Mental health: Mental illness and behavioral disorders including anxiety, depression, and phobias are often the result of an untreated head injury. The stress and emotional issues caused by dealing with the symptoms of a concussion may lead to mental illness.
3. Relationships: It can be difficult to have a meaningful relationship when dealing with problems caused by a brain injury. Symptoms such as ‘brain fog’, chronic pain, and emotional problems can damage relationships with others.
4. Academics: Students who suffer concussions may miss classes. It is not uncommon for students to miss weeks, or months of school with a concussion. Symptoms such as eye pain, blurred vision, memory loss, attention disorders, reading comprehension problems, and fatigue can make it nearly impossible to concentrate on schoolwork successfully.
5. Job performance: Focus, attention, coordination, and mental timing are very impaired by head injuries. These problems can have a negative impact on job performance. Left untreated, the effects can be lead to missed hours on the job, leaves of absence, demotions, and termination of employment.
The bottom line is that a person should always seek a medical help after any head injury. There is hope for those suffering the after effects of concussions with proper diagnosis and treatment.