Concussion 101: What Every Parent, Coach and Athlete Should Know

What is a concussion?

Think of the head as an egg.  The brain is the egg yolk, surrounded with fluid and then a hard outer shell.  A concussion is caused when a “jolt” is sent to that egg.  Specifically, a concussion occurs when an impulse is sent to the brain causing a complex metabolic chain of events.  A concussion is a functional injury to the brain, so structurally the brain appears normal on all imaging including CT scans and MRIs.

Due to the metabolic chain of events, blood flow, and therefore glucose (the body’s main form of energy), decreases in the brain.  In most injuries, the body wants to have more glucose flow to an injured area.  With the decreased blood flow and increased need, the brain has a large gap of supply and demand of blood.  This is what causes the injured athlete to feel the symptoms as described below.

Who does it affect?

Concussions occur often in sports.  Contact sports such as soccer, football, wrestling, hockey, and basketball have the highest prevalence of concussions.

Signs and Symptoms of Concussions

Athlete May Report

  • Headache or pressure in head
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred/double vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering/loss of memory
  • Spots before eyes
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Feeling “in a fog”

Coach or Parent May Observe

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sleepiness, grogginess
  • Balance problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Abnormal behavior
  • “Out of it” behavior

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of a concussion is determined through clinical examination.  By definition, all imaging tests, such as CT scan and MRI, appear normal.

Treatments/Management of Injury
When anyone sustains a concussion, the main objective is to keep the exertion to the brain to a minimum.  This will keep the gap of supply and demand to a minimum.  This includes no physical exertion (running, biking), no extreme visual stimulus (texting, video games), limited cognitive stress (exams in schools), and altered food and drink intake (no spicy foods, no alcohol).

Prognosis

The prognosis for a concussion that is properly managed is good.  However, if the concussion is not managed appropriately, the athlete may have lingering side effects for weeks to months to years.

REMEMBER:  There is no such thing as a minor head injury.  Symptoms may become worse with exertion or possible rest.  Athlete should not return to play until cleared by medical personnel.  Consult an athletic trainer or concussion expert immediately if any signs or symptoms are reported or observed.

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