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Concussions can happen to anyone, from your favorite pro athlete to your young children. That’s why it’s important for players, coaches and parents to know the symptoms and treatment protocol for them.

A concussion is a transient alteration and temporary loss of normal brain function. We often hear about concussions as the result of a sporting injury, but they can occur from any kind of trauma or direct force to the head. A concussion can also originate from a force that occurs elsewhere in the body and is transmitted to the head.

Symptoms of a concussion may vary from person to person. For many, symptoms start immediately, but for others, symptoms may show up minutes or hours later. Here are the most common symptoms to look out for:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Balance changes
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Neck pain
  • Mood changes such as agitation or depression
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Concentration issues
  • Abnormalities of the sleep cycle

Unfortunately, there are very few objective tests to diagnose a concussion. Most concussions are diagnosed through an exam performed by the health provider and symptoms reported by the patient. A CT scan may be run in the early stages of a head injury to check for bleeding around the brain, but this does not ultimately aid in the diagnosis of a concussion. Neurocognitive testing is often performed and can be helpful in diagnosing a concussion.

The treatment for a concussion often depends on the individual patient. The most critical treatment is to remove the patient from the environment of the injury, for example, removing a football player from practice. A second impact too close to the initial concussion could be life threatening.

It is recommended that the patient rest physically and cognitively. This means abstaining from things like television, computers and video games to give the brain a chance to rest. Treatment may also consist of different types of therapy, like vestibular ocular physical therapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy, depending on the patient’s symptoms.

The prevention of concussions is tricky. Many people believe that a helmet will help prevention but this is simply untrue: a helmet helps prevent facial and skull injuries. The best prevention in sports is proper technique and rule enforcement by referees and umpires. In most cases, one concussion will not affect a person’s long term health. Patients that don’t respond well to concussion treatment may develop post-concussive syndrome. The expected time period for an adult to recover from a concussion is less than 14 days and less than a month for children.

If you are concerned about the possibility of concussion or want to learn more about how to protect yourself or your kids, call Dr. Shaffer at WHS Primary Care – Lakeside at (724) 969-1001 or whs.org.

This article is brought to you by The Washington Health System.