Concussion is a short-term injury to the brain that tends to last for a few days or weeks. If you’ve had a bad bump to the head – or you’re with someone who’s had an accident – and are not feeling well, look out for concussion symptoms.
The majority of head injuries aren’t serious but knowing the red flag symptoms will help you know when to seek medical help for yourself or someone else.
What are the key symptoms of concussion?
Here are the typical signs of a concussion, that can also be delayed concussion symptoms. Mild concussion symptoms you may experience yourself:
- Headache or pressure inside your head
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or balance problems
- Double or blurred vision
- Light or noise sensitivity
- Feeling sluggish, confused or having problems concentrating
Signs of concussion in someone else:
- Appear stunned or dazed
- Can’t recall events immediately prior to or after the injury
- Move clumsily
- Exhibits personality or mood changes
- Answers questions slowly
‘Symptoms of a concussion usually show after a few minutes or hours of getting a head injury,’ explains Dr Rhianna McCylmont.
‘I often get asked about how long concussion symptoms should last, but they can vary hugely from person to person. Some people may not get any post-concussive symptoms for a few days or even weeks – and so it’s important to keep an eye out for anything unusual soon after the head injury.’
When to call 999 and when to go to A&E?
If symptoms worsen a few hours after the initial head injury, there’s a risk that there’s a more serious brain injury so seek emergency medical assistance.
Call 999 if they:
- Haven’t regained consciousness
- Fell from a height that’s over 1m (or 5 stairs)
- Have a wound with something embedded
- Have neck or back pain
- Have numbness or weakness in a part of their body
- Are having problems with vision
- Are bleeding or vomiting profusely (especially bleeding from the ears)
- Are having a seizure
- Are struggling to keep their eyes open or staying awake
- Are having problems with understanding, talking, walking or balance
- Have a transparent liquid coming out of their ears or nose
- Have some bleeding or bruising around their ears
- Have a black eye with no obvious damage around the eyes
Go to A&E if they:
- Have lost consciousness then woken up
- Vomited after the injury
- Have a headache that’s resistant to painkillers
- Are having problems with memory
- Are experiencing changes in behaviour, like getting irritable
- Have a blood clotting disorder or take blood thinners
- Have had brain surgery
- Have been drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs
- Are a child under 12 months of age
How long does a concussion last?
Generally, the more severe the injury, the longer it takes to recover from a concussion. Most people recover within 2 weeks to 1 month. Some people take longer than average to recover, including older adults, those with prior concussion injuries and those with pre-existing neurological conditions
What are delayed concussion symptoms?
Delayed concussion symptoms include headaches, dizziness, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, ringing in the ears or loss of concentration. If you’re not fully recovered after several weeks, you should see a doctor again to check for post-concussion syndrome.
What is post-concussion syndrome?
Occasionally, concussion symptoms can cause some long-term problems. These side effects are known as post-concussion syndrome and include headaches, dizziness, memory problems, unsteadiness, depression, anxiety and unusual behaviour.
It’s best to speak to a GP if you still have post concussion symptoms after 3 months. They may be able to recommend treatment or can refer you to see a specialist.
What are the stages of concussion recovery?
Everyone’s recovery from a concussion will be slightly different, but there are several general stages most people experience.
1. Acute phase – this happens immediately after the concussion, doctors recommend injury rest for 24–72 hours. This means getting sufficient sleep and reducing all activity. Anyone who has suffered a head injury shouldn’t be left on their own for at least 48 hours after the incident
2. Gradual return to everyday life – engaging in vigorous exercise too quickly increases the risk of another brain injury. Try minimising screen time as much as possible and avoid driving anywhere.
You may experience symptoms during your recovery that don’t require medical help. These symptoms should resolve over time and include:
- Disturbed sleep
- Feeling anxious and tearful
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
Concussion in a child or baby
‘If a child or baby has had a minor head injury, I would always recommend speaking to a GP – or if the fall or knock was severe, take them to your nearest A&E to be checked for a concussion,’ says Dr McClymont.
‘Watch out for any strange behaviours, excessive tiredness, being sick or problems with their balance, appetite or movement,’ she says.
‘As it can be much harder to spot concussion symptoms in a child or baby than an adult, it’s best to get advice from a doctor straight away, rather than treat them at home.
Livi GPs may advise you to see a doctor face-to-face, rather than having a video appointment.
Advice for preventing head injuries
Having repeated knocks to the head or multiple concussions can then lead to more serious problems.
‘Although getting a head injury or severe concussion isn’t always avoidable, there are a few lifestyle choices and measures you can take to reduce your risk of a serious head injury,’ suggests Dr McClymont.
- Wear the right protective clothing for contact sport like rugby or boxing
- Make sure there are people qualified in first aid to supervise contact sports
- Always wear a seat belt when driving or as a passenger
- Wear a helmet on a bicycle or motorcycle
- Keep your home and garden clear of slipping hazards, especially the stairs
When should I speak to a doctor?
Speak to a doctor if you’re concerned about concussion symptoms or a head injury. Especially if:
- Your concussion symptoms have lasted more than 2 weeks
- You’re unsure whether it’s safe to return to work, school or sports
- You’re concerned about possible long-term side effects
Contact emergency services if you need urgent care.
This article has been medically approved by Livi Lead GP Dr Rhianna McClymont