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If you hit your head and get a tender bump, bruise, or small cut without any other symptoms, you can just do first aid with some ice, a band-aid, and maybe some over-the-counter pain reliever. If you have a concussion, that is a more serious injury. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), a concussion is an immediate but temporary loss of brain function after a head injury. You can have a concussion without loss of consciousness.
Closed Head Injury: Concussion
A concussion is the most common type of closed head injury. You can have this injury without any obvious signs of bleeding or swelling. You may have a concussion if you have any of these symptoms right after a head injury:
- Loss of memory
- Poor reflexes
- Loss of balance or clumsiness
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in your ears
- Sensitivity to light
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up
If you have any of these symptoms, AANS says you should see a health care provider as soon as possible. The cause of a concussion is usually a blow to the head caused by a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or a sports injury. Less common causes include a whiplash type injury, a violent attack, or a blast injury.
A concussion does not usually need treatment but may require observation to make sure there is no bleeding or swelling of your brain. It is not usually necessary to do any brain imaging studies. Your health care provider can diagnose a concussion by your symptoms and physical exam.
How Long After a Head Injury Can Symptoms Occur?
In most cases, a concussion clears up without any long-term symptoms, although it may take several weeks for symptoms to go away. Symptoms that continue for several weeks to several months are called post-concussive syndrome. A severe concussion may also be called a traumatic brain injury. Long-term symptoms may include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, personality changes, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness.
You have to be extra careful not to have another head injury during this time because of another syndrome called second impact syndrome. This means having another concussion before your brain has recovered from the first concussion. This syndrome increases the risk of dangerous bleeding or swelling of the brain.
If you have another head injury after a concussion let your health care provider know right away. You should also get medical care after a concussion if:
- Any of your symptoms get worse
- You still have symptoms after 10 days
- You have any new symptoms like slurred speech, weakness, or clumsiness,
- You have persistent nausea or vomiting
- You have a seizure
When Is a Head Injury a Medical Emergency?
An open head injury can cause severe bleeding. Both open and closed head injuries that are severe can cause bleeding inside the brain or brain swelling inside the skull. Loss of blood and swelling decrease blood supply to nerve cells leading to a stroke and irreversible or fatal brain damage. Call 911 if you or someone else has any of these symptoms after a head injury:
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe bleeding
- Fluid leaking from the nose or ear
- Difficulty breathing
- Unequal pupils
- One-sided weakness or paralysis
- Severe headache
- Severe vomiting
Prevention of Head Injuries
You can prevent or reduce your risk of the major causes of head injury. Wear the appropriate helmet or headgear for sports or recreational activities. Wear your seatbelt. For elderly people, falls are the most common cause of head injury. If you are over 65, the CDC suggests asking your doctor to evaluate your risk of falling. Everyone should make their home safe from falls by:
- Removing cords or low furniture from walking areas
- Having grab bars and nonslip mats in the shower or tub
- Having good lighting in stairways and halls
- Having railings on stairways