Clinically speaking, concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain – and it can have long-term, life-threatening effects. Here’s how it works.

These days, when a rugby player involved in a violent collision either stays down or stands up a little wobbly, medics and doctors are likely to walk them off the field immediately. Why? Because that player has just suffered an injury that could have life-long repercussions.

Just as importantly, concussion can occur far away from the sports field, and often without anyone noticing, says Dr Daniel Fiandeiro, an emergency medicine specialist at the Level 2-accredited Trauma Centre at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg.

Common causes of concussion include falls, or blows to the head in the course of a contact- or collision-based sport, such as rugby. But did you know that many concussions come from the head simply being shaken?

Something as innocuous as a fender bender, or being dumped by a large wave while swimming or surfing in the ocean can cause lingering symptoms that point to a traumatic brain injury, says Dr Fiandeiro. This is because when your head is subjected to violent shaking, your brain moves and bumps against the inside of your skull. Those bumps can cause lasting damage.

Suspected concussion is a medical emergency – seek help as soon as you become aware of it.

Would you know if someone is concussed?

Look out for:
– Slurred speech
– Delayed response to questions or prompts
– Dazed or confused appearance
– Repeatedly asking the same question
– Temporary loss of consciousness is a common sign that someone has suffered a concussion, adds Dr Fiandeiro, although this doesn’t always occur.

Delayed reactions

Some symptoms of concussion may only present days after the injury, including:
– Concentration and/or memory lapses
– Irritability or nausea
– Sudden sensitivity to light and noise
– Disturbances in sleep patterns
– Depression

Wide-ranging symptoms

Concussion symptoms can also range widely from person to person, depending on the nature and extent of the injury. Headaches are common, along with a feeling of pressure in the head. In the long term, those effects can develop further, into speech and sight issues, sensitivity to light, chronic migraines, and mood disorders, including depression and changes in personality. Critically, they can linger, lasting anything from a few days to a season, an entire career – or even a lifetime.

Someone with concussion will most commonly suffer headache and a feeling of pressure in the head.

If you suspect someone has suffered a serious brain injury, don’t delay – call 084 124 for expert medical assistance. ER24’s teams of emergency medicine specialists will guide you through the correct protocols over the phone while they dispatch an ambulance to the scene. They’ll then transport the patient to the nearest or most appropriate emergency centre, if required.

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