As sports season kicks in for the new school year and more people head outdoors in hopes of exercising in slightly cooler temperatures, the number of concussions increases. However, Dr. Leonardo Oliveira, a sports medicine specialist at UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine physician practice, says you don’t have to be an athlete to suffer such a brain injury.
Each year, approximately 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with concussions, many of whom are older people at greatest risk for falls and auto-related injuries. In fact, any sudden bump or blow to the head and neck can cause a concussion – and can happen at activities ranging from falling off your bike to a rowdy rock concert.
Concussions happen when as a result of sudden impact, the brain moves around in the skull causing chemical changes. These changes make the brain more sensitive to stress and other injuries until it fully recovers. “That’s why it’s important to recognize the warning signs for concussions and seek medical attention immediately,” said Dr. Oliveira, who is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine and did his sports medicine training at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Oliveira said the following conditions can be a sign that you or someone else has suffered a concussion:
- Headache/neck pain
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Poor balance
- Loss of consciousness
- Dazed or stunned behavior
- Difficulty remembering
“Concussion symptoms can be tricky, so those around the injured person must pay close attention for the warning signs,” he said. Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks is an immediate effect of a head injury and can sometimes be the only sign. If not treated quickly and appropriately, it can have significant health consequences.
Other warning signs include changes in behavior, worsening headache, persistent double vision, excessive drowsiness or stroke-like symptoms (i.e., difficulty moving a limb, speech or facial droop). These warrant an evaluation by the closest emergency department.
Although treatment for concussions is individualized, most physicians recommend physical and mental rest immediately after the injury. This includes no texting, video games, TV, reading or physical activity. Dr. Oliveira said it’s also important to understand that medications will mask the pain and do not heal the brain. In fact, anti-inflammatory medications can be dangerous because they potentially increase the risk of bleeding.
It is known that adolescents take longer to recover from concussions than their adult counterparts. The exact reasons are being investigated, but it’s partially due to the fact that the younger brain is still growing and maturing. A personal of history of migraines also tends to increase the risks of prolonged symptoms.
It is paramount to have an evaluation and obtain clearance by a physician experienced in diagnosing and treating concussions before returning to normal activities.