What is a concussion?
Concussion is the most frequently seen type of brain injury following a head injury. It’s also the least serious.
Children are prone to head injuries from sports injuries while falls and car accidents are common causes in adults. Concussion is the temporary loss of mental function that can follow a head injury.
Concussion usually causes symptoms very quickly after a head injury but it can take a few weeks to become apparent. You might not know you’ve had a concussion until well after the head injury occurred.
Concussion itself doesn't usually need emergency medical attention but it should only be diagnosed by a medical professional as there could be a more serious brain injury. If you or your loved one experience significant symptoms following a head injury then it’s important to seek emergency medical care. See ‘When to seek medical care’ for more on this.
Concussion doesn't often cause long-lasting effects.
Children who’ve hit their heads and suffered a concussion might complain of a sore head. They can be kept at home and observed if:
They have not lost consciousness
Have not vomited
Have not cried immediately after the accident
Are behaving normally
Causes of concussion
The brain is surrounded by a clear fluid that protects it from hitting the inside of the skull. A severe blow to the head can cause the brain to collide with the inside of your skull despite the protective fluid. This disrupts the normal activity of the brain for a brief moment and can lead to the symptoms of concussion.
Symptoms of a concussion
Common symptoms of concussion following a head injury include:
Double or blurred vision and flashing lights
Temporary loss of memory that usually improves within a few hours
Look out for delayed symptoms
Some people feel relatively normal immediately after concussion, but symptoms can be delayed. You may start to feel ill after a few hours, so it's a good idea to have someone around for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury.
It's important to remember that if the symptoms get worse a few hours after the initial head injury, there’s a risk that there is a more serious brain injury and emergency medical assistance should be sought.
A concussion can occasionally cause symptoms several days or weeks after the head injury. You may find, for example, that you’re sleeping more than usual, are struggling to concentrate or have problems with your balance.
Concussion in children
Since children are more active than adults, they’re also more prone to concussions. Their sense of balance is not fully developed and they’re still learning to judge distance, speed and height. That makes it easy to run or cycle into something, have an accident during play or sports activities.
They may feel dizzy, nauseous, tired and want to sleep. These symptoms usually appear within a few hours. It is ok to let your child sleep but make sure you check on your child regularly for the first 24 hours after an injury, including at night.
In some cases, concussion symptoms can last for several days or weeks. Their symptoms might include a headache, abnormal tiredness or difficulty concentrating. If the symptoms get worse, seek medical help from your healthcare provider.
Your child should have emergency medical attention at A&E following a head injury, if you’re concerned they’ve been deliberately harmed or they:
Fall from a significant height of above 2m
Have a seizure
Have a headache that gets worse
Are complaining of neck or back pain
Bleeding a lot or you see clear fluid coming from their ears or nose
Have a change in behaviour, e.g. irritability or seem confused
Become very sleepy that you can not wake them
Complaining of visual or hearing problems
It’s important to seek medical assistance from your GP if your child:
Is aged under 12 months
Cannot remember the fall or what happened just before it
Has a diagnosis meaning that their blood does not clot normally
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor will make the diagnosis by talking to you about what happened during the accident and how you’ve felt since. They will carry out a physical examination to make sure there are no signs of a serious brain injury. In some cases a CT scan might be recommended.
There’s no specific treatment for concussion. Most patients recover within a few weeks with rest.
What can I do myself?
Rest as much as you can
Take paracetamol if you’re in pain
Avoid drinking alcohol
Try not to read, watch TV or look at a screen for too long and only return to work or school when you feel recovered
Only drive or ride a bike when you have entirely recovered
Do not pay contact sports, such as rugby, for at least 3 weeks and get guidance from your healthcare provider as to when sports can be restarted
When to seek medical care
You should seek medical care if you or your child has symptoms during or after a head injury. Most head injuries are minor but more serious complications need to be excluded.
Get emergency medical care for yourself or if someone has the following symptoms:
Loss of consciousness
Has fallen from a high height
Blue rings around your eyes
Severe headache or a headache that doesn't resolve with paracetamol
Fatigue or difficulty staying awake
Visual or hearing impairment
Different sized pupils
Confusion or a change in behaviour
Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
Fluid or blood running from mouth, nose or ears
A head wound
How Livi can help
You can contact Livi for help and information in the event of concussion. A doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be given a prescription for treatment, or a referral for specialist care.
Remember that if it is your child that has the problem, then your child must be present at the consultation.
- Reviewed by:
- Jorge Sotoca Fernandez , Paediatrician at Livi