Recognizing Symptoms of a Concussion


by Dr. Christopher Woodward

It’s back-to-school time again, which means the start of school sports. Out of the various sports-related injuries suffered by student-athletes, concussions can be serious.

A concussion is defined as any temporary neurologic symptom due to direct or indirect force to the head. Symptoms may be as severe as loss of consciousness or as mild as a headache.

Symptoms of a Concussion

A child or adult who exhibits any of the following symptoms should be taken immediately to the emergency room:

  • A worsening headache that won’t go away
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme drowsiness, or if they cannot be awakened
  • The pupil (the black part) of one eye is larger than the other
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Confusion, restlessness or agitation
  • Odd or unusual behavior
  • Unconscious, even if it’s for a very short time

Very young children or infants who have experienced a head injury should be taken to the emergency room if they won’t stop crying, can’t be consoled or if they refuse to nurse or eat.

However, many people who suffer head injuries may only experience milder symptoms, such as dizziness, difficulty concentrating or irritability. The important thing to remember is that these symptoms, however mild, should not be ignored. If those conditions persist, or if more severe symptoms develop, they should be taken to the emergency room.

After a Concussion

Any symptom of a concussion should be thought of as a sign that your child’s brain is still healing. It is important that during this healing time there is not another injury to the head. A second injury to the head can cause permanent damage which is rare but not worth the risk.

For children who suffer head injuries, I recommend a graduated return to normal activity. For the first 24 hours after injury, a child should have complete cognitive rest, which means no difficult reading, no loud noise or loud music, and no mentally rigorous activities that require concentration such as schoolwork or video games.

Then, if and only if there are no neurologic symptoms as mentioned above, during the first 24 hours activity may be increased slowly. Start by simply walking around the block and increase your child’s activity level everyday if they are not experiencing symptoms with the goal of full sports or activity in one week.

Remember: if you’re worried or in doubt about your child’s injury or illness, take them to the emergency room. If it feels like an emergency to you, then the emergency room is the place to go.

About Dr. Woodward

Christopher Woodward, DO is a doctor of osteopathic medicine who treats children in Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Emergency Department. He is board certified in Emergency Medicine and Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Dr. Woodward received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed his emergency medicine residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s Earl K. Long hospital in Baton Rouge, LA.

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