Studies have shown that undetected concussions can have long-term neurological effects, particularly for those who have had multiple concussions. For this reason, it is important for coaches, players, and parents to be able to recognize a concussion and know what to do in those situations. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about concussions. Let’s look at some of the most common beliefs and advice about concussions and sort out the fact from the fiction.
1. A person only has a concussion if he or she is/was unconscious.
False. While loss of consciousness can be an indicator of a concussion, it is still possible for a person to have a concussion even if he or she maintains consciousness. In fact, only a small percentage of concussions result in a loss of consciousness.
2. You can always tell if someone has a concussion immediately after the injury happens.
False. In some cases, symptoms may take as long as 48 to 72 hours to surface. MRIs and CT scans are unlikely to detect concussions since the damage occurs at the cellular level; a concussed brain looks normal on these tests. However, these tests can detect any bleeding or swelling of the brain, so it’s still a good idea to have the tests done. If a player sustains a hard blow, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have him or her monitored for symptoms in the days following.
3. You can only get a concussion by hitting your head.
False. A concussion can occur during any injury that causes the head and brain to quickly move back and forth. Although blows to the head are a common cause of concussions, any fall or blow to the body that causes the head to move this way has the potential to cause a concussion.
4. Many concussions go unreported.
True. Because concussion symptoms are not always present immediately, and there are still many people who don’t understand concussions, many do go unreported. Also, athletes may not always be aware that they have a concussion, and if there are no outward symptoms, coaches and trainers may not catch them either. In some cases, athletes won’t report a concussion because they don’t want to be taken out of the game. These are all reasons why concussion education is very important for athletes as well as coaches and trainers. Both players and coaches need to know how to spot a concussion and why it is so important to get treatment.
5. Helmets can prevent concussions.
False. While helmets do protect the head and can lower the risk of a concussion, there is no protective equipment on the market that can completely prevent concussions. As we discussed above, it is possible to get a concussion without a blow to the head, and a helmet would not be helpful in those cases.
6. People with concussions shouldn’t be allowed to fall asleep.
False. While it is important to monitor for symptoms, falling asleep isn’t harmful to someone who has a concussion. In fact, drowsiness and fatigue are common symptoms to concussions, and rest is often recommended to treat concussions because it gives the brain time to heal and recover. Parents may be advised to wake a child with a concussion every few hours just to make sure he or she is easily awakened, but falling asleep is generally not a problem.
7. If concussion symptoms go away quickly, it is safe for a player to rejoin the game.
False. Even if symptoms disappear quickly, the player should not be allowed to return to the game. The brain needs time to recover, even if there are no symptoms currently. Studies suggest the athlete should be out for at least a week, and longer if symptoms persist, to minimize the risk of another concussion while the brain is still healing. Repeated concussions can result in long-term damage.
It is important to stay educated about the effects of concussions. Failure to recognize and treat concussions can result in long-term neurologic damage. When in doubt, always err on the side of safety.