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Diagnosing & treating a concussion is not as simple as 1-2-3

Diagnosing & treating a concussion is not as simple as 1-2-3

Some health conditions are easy to diagnose. The symptoms for a common cold, chickenpox, pink eye, strep throat, and such are all very consistent from person to person, which makes them easy to identify. But that’s not always the case with concussion. 

Every single concussion is unique and can present with very different signs and symptoms. Because the brain is very complex, every brain injury is different. Some symptoms may appear immediately, while others may not show up for days or weeks after impact. Sometimes the injury makes it hard for people to recognize or admit that they are having problems, because often the signs of concussion can be subtle. Concussion symptoms are also often easily attributed to other things, such as fatigue after a ballgame or moodiness from teenage hormones. This is why it is believed that more concussions go undiagnosed than those that are identified and treated. 

So, do you know the most common signs and symptoms of a concussion? 

Here’s a quick review:

Signs often observed by parents/coaches/teammates:

•Appears dazed or stunned

•Moves clumsily

•Answers questions slowly

•Confused about assignment or position

•Forgets instructions

•Unsure of where they are and what they are doing

•Shows mood, behavior or personality changes

•Loses consciousness (even momentarily)

•Forgets events prior to or after the hit or fall

Symptoms often reported by athletes:

•Headache or “pressure” in the head

•Nausea or vomiting

•Balance problems or dizziness

•Double or blurred vision

•Sensitivity to light and/or sound

•Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy

•Concentration or memory problems


•Just not “feeling right” or “feeling down”

Remember, you don’t have to actually hit your head to have a concussion. Some concussions result from a hard jolt or blow to the body that causes the brain to be roughly jostled around in the skull. And you don’t have to lose consciousness or vomit to be diagnosed concussed. Any of these signs and symptoms should prompt you to seek medical care.

On most occasions it is not necessary to rush to the ER if you suspect a concussion. There aren’t blood tests or x-rays that diagnose concussions. Imaging is only done if a much more severe brain injury is suspected that may involve swelling or hemorrhage. The most common red flags that warrant a trip to the ER include:

•Inability to carry on a coherent conversation

•If eyes aren’t tracking and they can’t keep a gaze on you

•If one pupil is larger than the other

•Any loss of consciousness

•Inability to recognize people or places

•If headache worsens and does not go away

•Signs of weakness, numbness or decreased coordination

•Repeated vomiting or nausea

•Slurred speech 

•Convulsions or seizures

•Increasing confusion, restlessness or agitation or unusual behavior

Research shows that the majority of families today are seeking care outside of emergency rooms. Many are going to pediatricians and family physicians for diagnosis and treatment. It’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about their concussion training. All doctors are trained to diagnose concussions, but not all are versed on the latest treatment protocols. Often times it is best to seek the care of a concussion specialist, just like you would enlist an oncologist for cancer care or an orthopedist for a torn ACL. Concussions not only affect your neurological function, but often impact your body’s vestibular, cervical and ocular systems too. It’s important they recognize the signs and symptoms early and get comprehensive, specialized care as soon as possible to minimize recovery time and protect against lasting impact. 

You can contact Paige Havens by email: or call 678-938-4279