It’s November, and for most of us that means family, food, and of course, football. Unfortunately, football may also mean concussions, which are mild injuries to the brain that are caused by a blow to the head. Concussions have been a pressing issue in youth, high school, college and pro football, but can affect any athlete. Female athletes are estimated to be twice as likely to suffer from a concussion as their male counterparts. Even more alarming, the CDC estimates that 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur each year. In addition to sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents and falls are among the leading causes of concussions. These grim statistics beg some obvious questions: How do you prevent traumatic brain injuries? Do you know what to look for and what to do if someone you know may have a concussion?
CONSIDER THE CAUSE
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury. Since there are often no external signs of trauma, look for a possible cause of injury. Suspect a concussion with these types of injury:
- Car, motorcycle and bike accident
- Fall from greater than standing height
- Physical assault or violent shaking
- Electrical shock or lightning strike
- Sports activities: contact sports, diving
- Exposure to a blast (e.g. military, construction)
- Injury to the outside of the head
- Any injury associated with a loss of consciousness
If a person loses consciousness after a blow to the head or a violent jolt, he or she at least has a concussion, if not a more serious brain injury. A person who has had a previous concussion is at higher risk of serious brain injury with future concussions.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Brief loss of consciousness (with severe concussions)
- Nausea, vomiting
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Amnesia, repeating the same question
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems, dizziness
Immediate care for a concussion is the same as the treatment for most head injuries:
- Call 9-1-1.
- Stabilize the head and neck together in the position found; do not move the person.
- Treat signs of trauma (control bleeding, reduce swelling).
- Calm and reassure the person.
The signs and symptoms of a concussion may be hard to recognize and disappear quickly. The risk in overlooking even a mild concussion is the cumulative effect of repeat injury. It takes less force to create a subsequent concussion, and severity of injury and recovery time may be increased. Parents, coaches and caregivers should be aware of these tips to prevent a concussion:
- Make sure that helmets fit securely, and are repaired or replaced when damaged.
- Wear a hard hat at work when indicated.
- Always wear seatbelts, and secure infants and small children in child car seats.
- Install child safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Use non-slip mats in tubs and showers; use the hand rail for stairs.
Sometimes it’s not obvious a concussion has occurred until later. In a sports setting, the coach must be prepared to remove a player from a game or practice if a concussion is suspected, and notify medical personnel and the parent immediately. Parents need to be alert to signs of a brain injury as well. Every suspected concussion should be evaluated by a physician.
Since signs of a concussion could also be signs of a more serious brain injury, early recognition and care are essential to preventing permanent brain damage or even death. Recognizing and knowing what to do in the event of a traumatic brain injury is only half the battle; focusing resources on preventing these types of injuries is just as important.
Download a FREE copy of the EMS Safety Concussion Infographic HERE. Print it out. Stick it to the refrigerator. Take it to your children's sporting events. But most importantly, know what to do if someone has a concussion.