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Concussion – what you should know

A bump on the head may be more severe than it seems, resulting in long-term effects.

By Donna Fleming
Concussion may be a common condition – around 24,000 people in New Zealand suffer from it every year – but it can also be a potentially dangerous one. Blows to the head should always be checked out by a doctor and you should follow their advice very carefully.
What is concussion? It’s a mild traumatic brain injury – usually due to a blow to the head or violent shaking – that temporarily affects the way your brain works. It can cause problems with memory, speech, judgement, reflexes, balance, co-ordination and sleep. While most people recover without any lasting effects, you can suffer from a condition called post-concussion syndrome – resulting in ongoing symptoms, and occasionally there can be serious complications, such as bleeding in the brain. Suffering repeated concussions can also result in permanent brain injury.
How do I know I’ve got it? If you’ve had a blow to the head, you may have concussion if you then:
  • Become dazed and confused and find it hard to concentrate
  • Have a headache
  • Feel nauseous
  • Feel very tired
  • Have poor balance and co-ordination
  • Forget things that happened before or after the injury
  • Become slow to answer questions
  • Are more sensitive to noise and light
Some people with concussion may briefly lose consciousness – but even if you didn’t pass out, you can still have concussion.
What’s the treatment?
There’s no actual treatment, but the advice your doctor will give you will depend on the severity of the blow and the symptoms you are displaying. According to The Brain Injury Association of New Zealand, the advice most patients are given is not to go to sleep in the first four hours after a head injury. After that you will need a good night’s sleep, but if the blow has been severe and there’s risk of a serious brain injury developing, your support person may be told to wake you every couple of hours to check that you are okay, not excessively drowsy or slurring your words.
You can take paracetamol, but not medication that contains aspirin for at least four days. This medication can make you more prone to bleeding. Some other "don'ts" include:
  • Don’t drink alcohol or take sleeping pills for at least 48 hours.
  • Don’t drive for at least 24 hours.
  • Don’t play sport or train for at least three weeks.
How do I know if it’s caused more serious injury? Problems that could develop over the first 24 hours, which are signs of a more serious head injury, include:
  • A bad headache that gets worse
  • Being very drowsy and difficult to wake up
  • Extreme confusion
  • Blacking out
  • Vomiting often
  • Slurred speech and balance, and co-ordination difficulties
  • Seizures
If any of these occur, get medical help straightaway.
Rest your weary head
Going to bed for a week may help you to avoid or recover more quickly from post-concussion syndrome. This can cause some people to experience ongoing headaches, mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating and insomnia. US doctors researching concussion have found that bed rest for seven days – and that means not even using a computer or talking on the phone – can help people get over the symptoms, such as headaches and difficulty concentrating, more quickly. The sooner bed rest can begin after sustaining the injury, the better (although don’t go to sleep until four hours after the blow). The study found that even having enforced rest weeks later helped people who’d had concussion to do better on mental exams.

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