Guy holding his head

—Emmet S., Lakehead University, Ontario

A concussion is a brain injury caused by trauma to the head or a hit to the body that causes the brain to move back and forth quickly. It’s essentially a bruise to the brain. In the case of a concussion, the sudden brain movement damages your brain cells. Not all head injuries lead to a concussion.

Symptoms of concussions

  • Confusion
  • Amnesia (with or without loss of consciousness as well as headache)
  • Dizziness (feeling like the room is spinning or being unsteady)
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms will usually appear immediately or within an hour or so of the event. Within hours or days, other symptoms may appear, such as mood changes, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, sleep disturbances, and sensitivity to light and noise, including looking at a computer screen.

What should you do right after the concussion?

Anyone who has sustained a head injury should be evaluated by a trained health practitioner. If the person loses consciousness or has persisting symptoms, they should be seen at the hospital immediately.

After the assessment, the health practitioner will make some follow-up recommendations. At the very least, this will include monitoring for 24 hours. The symptoms should improve during this time, but if they don’t or get worse, this is an indication that the person should return to the emergency department to check whether bleeding has occurred or to rule out other serious complications.

What about recovery?

Recovery in most cases occurs within a matter of days. However, in some people, the symptoms may continue for weeks or months. The symptom that persists most commonly is the headache. When the headache is accompanied by some of the symptoms listed above, this is called post-concussion syndrome. There’s no consensus as to how this syndrome should be managed.

My advice is to wear a helmet when needed, always wear a seat belt, and see a health professional if you have a head injury. Follow-up with the health professional as recommended, and document your status for the primary purpose of accessing academic accommodations during your recovery.