How Is a Concussion Treated and What Can You Do During the Recovery Period?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that can lead to a range of health issues, including persistent headaches, dizziness, and problems with memory or thinking. In rare cases, a concussion can lead to a blood clot or bleed in the brain, which can turn fatal.
Symptoms can show up immediately or days or weeks later.
While most people recover completely from a concussion, how soon this happens can depend on several factors, including the severity of the trauma, their age, how healthy they were before the concussion, and how they take care of themselves afterward. (1)
Several things can help reduce the severity and length of symptoms.
Rest Is Essential Immediately Following a Concussion
The most important step in concussion recovery is getting plenty of rest, which is necessary to help the brain heal. People with a concussion should get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day.
Immediately after a concussion, you should avoid any activity that is physically demanding, including heavy housework, weight lifting, and exercise, as well as activities that require a lot of concentration, such as balancing a checkbook. These can make your symptoms worse and make your recovery period longer. After that period, though, subsymptom exercise such as aerobics has been shown to help people recover faster over the long run.
If you live alone, ask someone to stay with you for the first 48 hours so they can look out for problems, including changes in your behavior or difficulties concentrating or understanding.
Try to avoid situations that will cause you stress.
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Avoid Contact or Recreational Sports
Whether or not your concussion occurred as a result of a sports trauma, avoid participation in contact sports until you’re cleared by your doctor. Research shows that one concussion puts a person at a higher risk of subsequent TBIs.
If you received a sports-related concussion, research shows that engaging in noncontact sports immediately following the injury can aid in your recovery. (2)
Keep Track of Things That Are Harder for You to Remember
Write down a list of the things that may be harder than usual for you to remember and bring it to your next doctor’s appointment. If you find yourself getting easily distracted, try doing one thing at a time. For example, focus only on making dinner instead of cooking while watching television.
Until your symptoms go away, ask a family member or close friend for help in making important decisions.
Talk With Your Doctor Before Returning to Normal Activities
When your healthcare provider gives you the go-ahead to return to your normal activities, do so gradually, not all at once.
Ask your physician when you can return to work and talk with your employer about your condition. Consider asking about returning to work gradually, including working half days and changing your work activities until you recover.
Since your ability to react may be slower after a concussion, consult with your doctor about when you can safely ride a bike, drive a car, or operate heavy machinery.
Avoid alcoholic beverages until your doctor says you are well enough to drink them again. Only take medication that you have spoken to your doctor about and have received approval for. Drugs and alcohol can slow your recovery and put you at risk for further complications.
Initially, you may also want to avoid sustained computer use, including computer and video games. Experts also recommend steering clear of roller coasters and other high-speed rides during the recovery period.
Concussion Recovery in Children
In children, the same rules apply for concussion recovery as for adults. Parents should talk with their child’s doctor about when it is safe to return to school and other activities.
Parents may also wish to speak to teachers, coaches, counselors, babysitters, other parents, siblings, and any one else who interacts with the child to help them understand what happened to the child and what they can do to help in recovery.
When Concussions Become More Serious
More severe head injuries can lead to long-term symptoms and further complications, including infections, post-concussion syndrome, impaired consciousness, brain injury, and swelling or bleeding in the brain. (3)
The severity of these complications varies significantly, as does the treatment. Some may clear up on their own, while others can require treatment with antibiotics or other medication. Hospitalization is necessary in some cases, and certain patients may need surgery.
Look out for danger signs after a concussion, including a headache that gets worse and does not go away; weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination; repeated vomiting or nausea; and slurred speech. Get to the doctor or emergency room right away if you are experiencing these symptoms after a concussion so your physician can find out what is wrong and determine a treatment plan.
If you’re caring for someone recovering from a concussion or who you think might have suffered a concussion, take them to the emergency room immediately if they:
- Look very drowsy or cannot wake up
- Have one pupil larger than the other
- Have seizures or convulsions
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Are getting more confused, restless, or agitated
- Are behaving unusually
- Lose consciousness (4)
New Treatment on the Horizon
While adequate rest is the number one recommended treatment post concussion, researchers are looking at a more active form of treatment, called vestibular therapy. This is an exercise-based program, designed by a specialized physical therapist, to improve balance and decrease dizziness — problems that may arise after someone suffers a concussion.
The therapy involves specific head, body, and eye exercises designed to retrain the brain to recognize and process signals resulting in gaze and balance stabilization. According to a study published online in February 2019 in theBritish Journal of Sports Medicine, although the evidence surrounding vestibular therapy in patients with concussions is weak, it shows promise and warrants further studies to analyze its potential benefits.
Video: Concussion / Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
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