Concussions can be mild or serious
By: Beth Mork, M.D.
You’re involved in a car accident where your head hits the windshield. Your child is riding his skateboard, takes a tumble and falls headfirst onto the pavement. Your neighbor is pruning a tree and a branch falls, hitting him in the head.
Accidents happen, and when they do, they often involve trauma to the head. Head injuries can be cause for alarm. They can be serious and require immediate medical attention. Other times, at-home treatment methods suffice. How do you know the difference? When does a head injury require a call to the doctor?
For the purposes of this article, we are going to review the type of head injuries known as closed head injuries. These are injuries that don’t involve a penetrating injury to the skull.
Closed head injuries are often referred to as concussions. A concussion is a brain injury that is caused when a sudden blow to the head shakes the brain inside the skull, causing temporary injury.
The brain is a soft organ that is normally protected in two ways: from the hard, bony skull and from spinal fluid that floats between the brain and skull. The spinal fluid acts as a cushion during minor bumps and jolts.
If a major blow, or trauma, to the head occurs, the brain may physically move inside the skull. It pushes past the protective spinal fluid and can hit up against the skull bone. This is a concussion.
Usually, concussions are minor injuries that result in a full recovery within hours or a few weeks. There are times, however, when a concussion can be more serious. Symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe; if you notice any symptoms of a concussion, you should contact your doctor.
Some symptoms might not be evident immediately following the injury. Sometimes they develop over time. This is a sign of a more serious injury. Seek medical attention immediately if new symptoms develop over time.
Treatment for a concussion involves observing the person closely to watch for changes in behavior or new symptoms. Depending on the situation, the injured person may need to stay overnight at the hospital for observation. In other cases, he or she may be able to return home and recuperate there.
In all cases, rest is one of the best ways to recover from a concussion. A person should drink plenty of fluids (water is best). If the injury site is swollen or sore, an ice pack can be used during the first 24 hours after injury to decrease swelling. An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), may also be used. Avoid alcohol or other drugs.
Prevention is key. The best concussion is one that never happens at all. You can reduce the likelihood of head injury by wearing helmets and safety equipment when biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, skating, skiing or engaging in other activities where a head injury could occur. Always wear a seatbelt when riding in a motor vehicle. Make your home as accident-proof as possible by making sure lighting is adequate, stairways are not blocked and flooring is level.
Head injuries can be serious. If you or someone you know falls and bumps their head, observe them carefully for symptoms of a concussion. Seek medical help if any symptoms are present or change over time. Most importantly, engage in safe behaviors and use safety equipment that will make head injuries less likely.
|Dr. Mork is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic|