Suspect a Concussion? How to Help (Not Hurt) Your Recovery

Know the warning signs, what to do and what not to do

Between 1.6 and 3.8 million concussions are believed to occur across the United States each year. Increased awareness has prompted an increase in diagnosis of concussive injuries.

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What is a concussion? It’s a short-lived functional brain injury, typically caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head.

If you’ve been diagnosed with or suspect that you or a loved one has a concussion, treatment — including physical and mental rest — should start right away. Don’t wait to seek help from a medical professional with expertise in evaluating and managing concussions.

Warning signs of concussion

Because problems can arise in the first 24 to 48 hours after a head injury, anyone suspected of sustaining a concussion should be monitored for worsening symptoms, including:

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  • Repetitive nausea or vomiting
  • Pupils that are enlarged or unequal in size
  • Unusual or bizarre behavior
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Seizures
  • Severe dizziness
  • Progressively worsening headache
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Excessive drowsiness or fainting
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty waking from sleep

If you have any concerns at all after a head injury, seek medical attention immediately.

5 steps to take after a concussion

Follow these tips to help decrease your symptoms and speed recovery.

  1. Identify and avoid your triggers. Any activity that produces or increases symptoms is considered a trigger. It is important for you to know what aggravates your symptoms to speed the recovery process.  For example, if bright lights are bothering you more than they have in the past, wear sunglasses or a hat.
  2. Get some sleep. Our brain recovers during sleep. Sleep is even more important when recovering from a concussion. It is common to feel more exhausted from daily activities such as school or homework while recovering from a concussion. If needed, take short naps (30 to 60 minutes) when tired. Try not to take so many that they interfere with your ability to sleep later on at night. Minimize any distractions, such as TV or phones, while trying to fall asleep.
  3. Rest your brain. Overstimulating your brain after a head injury will not allow it to rest and recover. Using your brain to think hard, read, study or try to learn new material may be very difficult and may aggravate your condition. Processing new information can be harder for anyone who is concussed. If you have work or studying to do, spread it out and take frequent breaks. Students should talk to teachers about adjusting assignments while they recover.
  4. Rest your body. While recovering from a concussion, avoid doing anything that significantly increases your heart rate unless you’ve been cleared by a physician. Light activity, such as walking or riding a stationary bike, may actually help in your recovery, as long as it doesn’t worsen the symptoms.
  5. Be smart. Rest and recover. Returning to sports or other activities too soon after a concussion can worsen symptoms and keep you off the court or field longer.

4 things to avoid after a concussion

Steer clear of these things to optimize your recovery:

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  1. Excessive physical activity. An increased heart rate may worsen your symptoms.
  2. Strenuous mental activities. Reading, computer work, playing video games, texting and watching TV can overstimulate your brain. It’s OK to try these activities, but if symptoms occur, you should stop, rest and recover before returning to them.
  3. Driving too soon. As a precaution, do not drive for at least 24 hours after a concussive injury. Your reaction time may slow down, increasing the risk of accidents.
  4. Pain relievers. Use caution taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®). Theoretically, they may increase your risk of bleeding. They can also mask symptoms, leading to worsening symptoms when the medications wear off.