How to know if You Have a Concussion and What To Do
Concussion can be sneaky. It happens when your brain hits the inside of your skull. You don’t even need to hit your head. Whiplash injuries, that are common in car accidents and sports, jar the head forcefully and can cause just as much damage as being struck. Concussion is considered a mild traumatic brain injury, (mTBI). The classification of severity of head injuries is based on how long you were unconscious, but you do not have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. While a head injury may be classified as mild, the symptoms may not feel that way to the patient who has post-concussion syndrome. Another sneaky thing about head injuries is that the symptoms may not occur right away. You may feel a little off. Maybe you blame it on adrenaline and shake it off and get back in the game or the car, but the next morning or even a week later, things may be different. Here are symptoms to watch for that may indicate you have a concussion:
- Foggy thinking
- Memory issues
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Behavior or emotional changes
- Light or sound sensitivity
What to Do if You Have Had a Concussion
Seek Medical Attention
You have had an earthquake in your skull. The communication grid is scrambled. Water and sewer pipes are compromised. Structural damage abounds. There is a raging fire everywhere creating chaos and preventing clean up and rebuilding. First things first, you need to call in emergency services and seek medical attention.
One of the greatest dangers of closed head injury versus an open head injury in which you bleed on the outside or your skull is actually broken, is that you look fine. Because it can’t be seen by you or others and the idea that you have injured your brain is very scary, denial may be the most common first response to head injury. Add the confusion and poor decision making caused by the injury itself to the fear and you may find yourself locked in conflict between thinking something is just not right and “it will go away”.
You need to see a doctor! If you were injured recently and didn’t go to the emergency room, go now, especially if your symptoms are getting worse. Imaging will determine if you had any bleeding or if you have a lot of inflammation around your brain. SPEC scan is the most effective way to identify areas of the brain affected by both severe and mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Many facilities don’t have SPEC. In that case an MRI or CT scan may be done. Even if it has been months since your injury, it’s good to know. The best news you can get is that they can’t see anything. The really ugly stuff has been ruled out. Sadly, that doesn’t mean nothing is wrong, just means they can’t see it. You may walk away with a prescription for anti-inflammatories or a referral to a neurologist or neuropsychologist.
We live in a world that values independence. The strong are able to take care of themselves. Let me tell you that the truly strong are able to recognize when they need help. My advice would be to have one, maybe two people. Talk to them. Tell them that you are having some issues and you are not sure what to do about them. You don’t expect them to solve the problem, just listen and maybe help navigate the health system. They could go to your doctor’s appointments with you, take notes or record them. Maybe they just remind you to record them. It’s also important to have someone objective who knows you well to help point out symptoms you may not register. The most important thing they can do for you is understand. It makes it real.
To recover, both your body and mind need to rest. Now is the time to allow yourself to heal. As hard as it may be, you need to put the demands of life aside and know that rest is the best thing for you right now. Just like a strained muscle, if you try to work your brain while it is healing, it will damage it more. There will be a time to challenge yourself and “rehab”, but not in the days, maybe weeks after impact.
Initially, you may find yourself very tired and easily fatigued mentally and physically. This is your brain talking to you. Listen. If an athlete returns to play too soon, they can lose a season. Better to miss a few games. Challenging your brain too soon will make you more fatigued, upset and maybe even depressed. This slows your healing. You may not be able to focus well, but you need to put that focus on healing.
Unfortunately, many of the things we think of as relaxing put a lot of demand on the brain. Reading is very strenuous and will cause your brain to fatigue quickly. Watching TV, while seemingly passive, also engages many parts of the brain. In fact anything involving a screen, (even reading this article), can drain the brain’s energy due to the nature of the light they emit. So that means no games on the phone, no scrolling on the tablet. It’s a good time to get together with friends one on one to talk or take easy walks in nature.
If you need to do work that requires mental focus, build in frequent breaks before you become fatigued. The ultimate brain rest is meditation or an activity you find meditative, but not strenuous such as T’ai Chi, creative arts or crafts. Five minutes of strenuous exercise a day will actually stimulate brain recovery. But be careful not to over-do it because exercise can also create inflammation.
Why are your concussion symptoms getting worse days, weeks or even months later? The answer is inflammation. It is a natural response to injury and serves a vital role, but also has consequences, especially when it gets out of hand. Controlling inflammation as quickly as possible will be a key factor in limiting the damage to your brain and shortening your recovery time.
The brain has its own kind of inflammation. It starts with specialized cells called glial cells. These cells react to injury by releasing chemicals that cause nerve cells to become inflamed, overstimulated and fatigued. Damage from this inflammation creates more and more inflammation. Brain inflammation can cause bodily inflammation and bodily inflammation from injuries or other sources in turn causes more brain inflammation. Therefore, you need to take care of both your body and brain. If the inflammatory load of the brain gets high, the glial cells can actually change shape and become much more sensitive. This is why you may have flair ups in symptoms even with very slight aggravation of the brain.
Slowing the chemical reactions that create inflammation means changing the chemical environment of the brain. You must add anti-inflammatory influences and minimize pro-inflammatory substances. Arnica is a homeopathic medication used for trauma. You can purchase it in many grocery or health food stores, but the highest concentration may only be available from a doctor that practices homeopathy. The least expensive and side effect free method is ice. It slows down any chemical reaction and feels wonderful.
There are many supplements that address general inflammation that takes place throughout the body and others are specific to nerve and brain inflammation. At the top of your list should be flavonoids and essential fatty acids. Flavonoids are a class of natural compounds that have been shown to dampen glial cell activity. They include: Resveratrol, Catechin, Curcumin, Apigein, Baicalein, Rutin and Luteolin.
Essential fatty acids not only help reduce inflammation, they help rebuild damaged brain cells. DHA is particularly important, but you should also take EPA. You should also take Magnesium, Vitamin D and glutathione. To reduce the causes of inflammatory reactions in the brain you should refrain from sugar, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs and activities that will jar your body.
As a protective mechanism, the body contracts when injured. This includes the subtle movements of the skull which serve to pump fluids around the brain and spinal cord. Inflammatory fluids build up creating pressure and a toxic environment for the brain. Cranial therapy is used to restore these movements and the flow of fluids creating a healthier environment for the brain to heal.
Once you understand that you have a concussion, it’s important that you take care of it as soon as possible. While some people recover within weeks or months of a concussion, others have symptoms that linger on for years. The sooner you recognize the symptoms and take the above steps to control the damage, more likely you will have a speedy, full recovery.