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Treating concussion – what to do if someone is showing symptoms

Last updated:
Thu, Oct 14, 2021
If you’ve bumped your head or taken a bad knock, it’s hopefully nothing serious. But if you start feeling unwell afterwards, you may have a concussion. Lead GP at Livi, Dr Rhianna McClymont explains more about the symptoms to be aware of

Concussion is a short-term injury to the brain that tends to last for a few days or weeks. If you’ve had a particularly bad bump to the head – or you’re with someone who’s had an accident – and are not feeling well, look out for the symptoms for a concussion.

Younger people who play lots of competitive sports like football or rugby, are more at risk of getting concussed from a head injury. Most cases of head injuries in kids happen between the ages of 5 to 14, from either a sporting or cycling accident. For older people, having a fall or being in a car accident are more common causes of a concussion.

What are the signs of concussion?

‘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.’

Here are the typical signs of a concussion, that can also be delayed concussion symptoms.

  • Headache after hitting head that doesn’t go away or get relief from painkillers
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Nausea or being sick
  • Problems with memory
  • Clumsiness or trouble with balance
  • Unusual behaviour or mood swings
  • Feeling stunned, dazed or confused
  • Changes in your vision
  • Struggling to stay awake

Advice for treating a concussion

When to stay at home

‘For mild concussion symptoms and less serious head injuries, the general advice is to rest at home, stay hydrated and take paracetamol to manage the pain,’ says Dr McClymont.

Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are not advised because they can cause bleeding from the injury.

Holding a cold compress or bag of frozen veg (wrapped in a tea towel) will help to reduce any swelling. And it’s a good idea to avoid drinking alcohol and hold off from normal day to day hobbies or activities until fully recovered!

When to go to A&E

For more serious head injuries and accidents like a car crash, or if the affected person feels unwell with any concussion effects listed above, they should go to their nearest A&E department as soon as possible.

A health professional trained in assessing head injuries can then decide if they need a brain scan for further investigation.

The same advice about going to A&E applies for any of the reasons below too.

  • They have been knocked out
  • They’re having problems with memory
  • They have a headache that’s not going away
  • They’re being repeatedly sick
  • There are changes in behaviour, like getting irritable
  • They’ve had brain surgery in the past or are taking blood-thinning medicine
  • They’ve been drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs

When to call 999

If the situation is more urgent like the examples below, they may have a severe concussion. Call for an ambulance immediately to get medical help, if:

  • They’ve not woken up after being knocked out
  • They’re having difficulty staying awake
  • They have problems with understanding, talking, walking or balance
  • They have numbness or weakness in part of their body
  • They have problems with their vision
  • There’s clear fluid coming from their ears or nose
  • There’s some bleeding or bruising around their ears
  • They have a black eye with no obvious damage around the eyes
  • They’re having a seizure

When to see a GP

  • Concussion symptoms have lasted more than 2 weeks
  • Unsure whether it’s safe to return to work, school or sports
  • Concerned about possible long-term side effects

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.

Are there side effects of concussion?

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.

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 is not 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.

  1. Wear the right protective clothing for contact sport like rugby or boxing
  2. Make sure there are people qualified in first aid to supervise contact sports
  3. Always wear a seat belt when driving or as a passenger
  4. Wear a helmet on a bicycle or motorcycle
  5. Keep your home and garden clear of slipping hazards, especially the stairs

Speak to a GP about concussion symptoms

A GP can advise you further on any necessary post concussion treatment for you or your child.
Book an appointment
Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated:

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