Did my son have a concussion?

Q: My 13-year-old son fell and hit the back of his head on cement. As far as I know, he did not lose consciousness, but did complain of feeling “tingly” all over. The next day, he was very lethargic, weak and sleepy, but was not vomiting.

Did my son have a concussion?
Did my son have a concussion?

A: Nancy Snyderman, M.D., F.A.C.S: I hope by now your son has seen a doctor and is doing well. The concern in a situation such as this is concussion. Loss of consciousness provides a good clue that a concussion may have occurred, but it’s not the only clue. And you can suffer a concussion without blacking out.

Technically, concussion is defined as a change of mental status or functioning. It’s a brain injury that usually results from a blow to the head that literally shakes the brain inside the skull. This may damage the brain by causing a portion of it to shift, or by actually tearing some brain tissue. In extreme — and fortunately rare — cases, a concussion may cause swelling of the brain, severe brain damage or death.

Most teens and adults recover fully from concussion. About one in seven may have some lingering problems. The real worry, particularly with people involved in impact-prone sports, is that a second concussion will occur before the brain has healed from the first. During the healing period, which may take days or weeks, the brain is much more susceptible to lasting damage if a second concussion is sustained. This is known as Second Impact Syndrome.

Symptoms of a concussion may not show up immediately. Delayed symptoms that appear within a day or so after the trauma are not unusual. Any abnormal feelings or behaviors may be signs of a concussion, but here are some of the more common ones:

– Unconsciousness
– Memory problems
– Difficulty concentrating, thinking or focusing
– Headache
– Dizziness
– Fatigue
– Weakness
– Nausea
– Vomiting
– Irritability
– Mood swings
– Difficulty with movement
– Sleep disturbances

It is very important to recognize the signs and seek medical attention if there is any possibility a concussion has been sustained. In many cases, the only treatment required is rest and cessation of concussion-risky activities until the patient has recovered.