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When Dealing with Concussions, It’s Best to Use Your Head!
By Joseph Dougherty, M.D.

Joseph Dougherty, M.D. Most, if not all, of us have been there are at some point: You hit your head pretty hard and you wonder, “Could I have a concussion?” This thought is probably occurs even more often today with all the publicity given to concussions and their potential long-term effect.

While not every hit to the head results in a concussion, some do and so it’s important to recognize the symptoms. These include headache, head pressure, neck pain, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, balance problems, sensitivity to light or noise, and ringing in the ear. Other symptoms could include feeling slowed down or in a “fog,” difficulty concentrating or remembering, fatigue, confusion, irritability, sadness, anxiety, drowsiness, trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual.

While it’s rare for someone who may have experienced a concussion to need a trip to the emergency room, some signs that might warrant such a trip. These include excessive sleepiness; an inability to stay awake or being roused from sleep; a headache that gets worse and is not relieved with typical medications; increased nausea and vomiting; more confusion, agitation or restlessness; trouble talking, walking, or changes in vision; or seizures or convulsion.

When these more severe signs are absent, you can take the following steps to manage a concussion:

Remove yourself from the concussion-causing situation. If it occurred during a physical activity (such as sports), do not participate in that sport again until you see a physician. Do not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, or naproxen (Aleve) in the first 72 years after the concussion.

Rest your brain. For 48 to 72 hours, you should rest at home with no TV, reading, video games, work or similar activities. Minimizing brain activity helps start the healing process. The earlier you start, the quicker you’ll heal.

  1. See your primary care physician or a concussion specialist. Your doctor will evaluate you to make sure there is nothing more serious and help treat your symptoms.
  2. Listen to your doctor. Before okaying your return to sports, job or other activity, your doctor may order a “Return to Play” or “Return to Learn” program to ensure your concussion has healed.

Most people fully recover from a concussion in 10 to 14 days, although this can vary from individual to individual. So if it takes you a little longer, don’t be overly concerned. Trust your doctor and your common sense and follow these tips. Together, they’ll ensure you get back in the game.

Dr. Dougherty is a primary care sports medicine physician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He is also Associate Program Director of the Forbes Family Medicine residency and Allegheny Health Network sports medicine fellowship.

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