Concussions: Symptoms and Care

Doctors and coaches are becoming increasingly concerned about the risk of concussion during athletic competition. Athletes both young and old can significantly damage their neurological function by sustaining a traumatic injury to the head. For this reason, it is imperative that athletes and coaches alike become familiar with the symptoms and treatment guidelines for concussion.

There are two types of concussion: first degree (simple) concussion and second degree (complex) concussion. A first degree concussion does not necessarily entail a loss of consciousness. An individual who sustains a first degree concussion will feel confused or disoriented for a brief period of time, typically less than a quarter of an hour. During this period, the individual may have a hard time remembering basic information, as for instance the names of other people. Some of the other common symptoms accompanying a first degree concussion are headaches, dizziness, nausea, and memory loss.

An individual who is believed to have suffered a first degree concussion should not be allowed to return to competition. If the symptoms mentioned above last for longer than fifteen minutes, the individual should seek professional medical attention. If the individual is a minor, his or her parents should be notified. First degree concussions may be combined with neck injury, so the individual should be immobilized until the extent of the injury can be determined. Finally, any individual who suffers a first degree concussion should not reenter athletic competition until he or she has been free of symptoms for at least a day and has received authorization from a doctor.

The symptoms of a second degree concussion are considerably more serious, and are less likely to be overlooked. A second degree (or complex) concussion is marked by a period of unconsciousness. During this period of unconsciousness, the individual’s eyes will be either closed or unfocused, and the individual may lose muscle tone. An individual who suffers a complex concussion will also be confused and disoriented for a period lasting longer than a quarter of an hour.

Obviously, a person who suffers a second degree concussion should be immediately removed from competition. Any time there is a loss of consciousness, however brief, the individual needs to be examined by a doctor. If the individual remains unconscious for a prolonged period of time, his or her head and neck should be stabilized and an ambulance should be called. Individuals who suffer second degree concussions should not return to athletic competition until they have been free of symptoms for at least a week and have received permission from a doctor.

In some cases, the occurrence of a concussion will not be obvious. For this reason, it is important to be aware of some of the common symptoms so that those individuals who may have suffered head trauma can be removed from competition. Individuals who suffer a mild concussion may have delayed verbal and motor responses, and may seem confused. Such individuals may exhibit emotional reactions that are out of proportion to circumstances, and may have slurred or incoherent speech. Often, individuals who suffer a mild concussion will become unhappy for no apparent reason. If any of these symptoms are observed, the individual should be removed from competition immediately so that further examination can take place.

One of the reasons why it is especially important to detect and treat concussion is that every traumatic brain injury increases the chances of suffering similar injury in the future. In other words, athletes who have a history of concussions must be even more careful on the playing field, as they are more vulnerable to further damage. Those individuals who suffer more than one concussion will probably need an extended period of rest before competition can be resumed. In all cases, the decision should be made in consultation with a physician.

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